Recent satellite images show North Korea is digging a new underground tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test, according to South Korean intelligence officials.
The excavation at North Korea's northeast Punggye-ri site, where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009, is in its final stages, according to a report by intelligence officials that was shared Monday with The Associated Press.
Its release comes as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket that Washington and others say is a cover for testing missile technology that could be used to fire on the United States.Observers fear a repeat of 2009, when international criticism of the North's last long-range rocket launch prompted Pyongyang to walk away from nuclear disarmament negotiations and, weeks later, conduct its second nuclear test. A year later, 50 South Korean were killed in attacks blamed on the North.
These reports come just two months after U.S. diplomats sat down with North Korean officials in Beijing to discuss non-proliferation agreements. During the negotiations, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests presumably because the U.S. State Department offered the impoverished nation 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance. Nevertheless, after this seemingly encouraging agreement, there was a real sense of optimism spreading across the United States – and the world – that change was finally coming to North Korea. Today, however, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, it seems the oligarchs in power are more committed to developing and testing nuclear weapons than feeding their own people.
Sadly, during the 1990s, no less than one million North Koreans starved to death as a result of widespread famine and neglect. In 2012, millions more continue to suffer. Still, increasing the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal is the number one priority of the regime. And as these recent satellite images demonstrate, the government will continue to appropriate their resources (even at the expense of their own people) to achieve that end.