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North Korean Nuclear Test is Imminent

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

South Korea-North Korea: South Korea's UN ambassador said Monday a North Korean nuclear test 'seems to be imminent.' Ambassador Kim Sook said there are 'very busy activities' taking place at North Korea's nuclear test site 'and everybody's watching.'"


South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reported recent satellite images have shown new activity on the southern edge of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the mountains of northeastern North Korea. Imagery also detected that preparations for a presumed test have been completed at a second tunnel.

President Pak has placed all South Korean agencies on alert for a North Korean nuclear test.

Comment: The South Korean news service reports about the North Korean activities detected in recent satellite imagery, invariably attributed to South Korean government sources, indicate preparations for one or two nuclear tests are nearly complete and suggest that a test could happen with little or no additional warning.

If North Korean behavior for the December space launch is a guide, the North may be expected to engage in deception to disguise the timing of the test.

North Korea: "An expanded meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) Central Military Commission was held under the guidance of respected and beloved Comrade Kim Jong Un, who is first secretary of the WPK; chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK; first chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army," according to the Korean Central News Agency on 2 February.

"At the enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, respected and beloved Comrade Kim Jong Un drew an important conclusion (also translated as an important concluding speech) that will serve as a programmatic guideline in further strengthening the people's army into an ever victorious, invincible revolutionary army of Mount Paektu and in defending the security and sovereignty of the country, as required by our party and the development of the revolution."


Separate North Korean and foreign news services reported the meeting's agenda as, "The issue of 'bringing about a great turn in bolstering up military capability' and an organizational issue were discussed."

Comment: The weekend meeting marks the third high level meeting Kim has chaired since the UN Security Council Resolution on 23 January that denounced the December satellite launch. At each meeting Kim assigned tasks to the various groups in attendance.

The meeting on 26 January was with senior state security and foreign affairs officials. The meeting last week was with party cell secretaries, the lowest level party officers who have direct daily contact with the Korean people. At the 2 February meeting, the attendees were the military officials, apparently including all the army corps and other field formation commanders.

The meetings appear to be part of a high level indoctrination program that has run almost in parallel with public statements criticizing the UN and the US. Party members will have received instructions for relaying to their non-party charges.

Indoctrination is part of the North Korean way of life, which involves daily formal and informal instruction of the party leaders at every level. They in turn instruct the non-party population what to think about anything the top leaders direct. For example, nation-wide indoctrination of the populace during a severe crisis that risked war would be an indicator of war preparations. North Korea indoctrinates the population about any action that the leadership expects could lead to severe detriment or disruption of normality.


The meetings beginning on the 26th are unusual because they are expensive to convene; appear to have been convened on short notice and, based on the timing, appear related to North Korean intentions for responding to the UN action.

The brief news announcement contained no details about Kim's "important conclusion" or the content of his concluding speech. In context, it is reasonable to judge that Kim addressed nuclear weapons and the future development of the armed forces.

Kim might have concluded, for example, that North Korea must conduct another nuclear test or a set of tests. Such a decision would require programmatic changes in the forces and a thorough nation-wide indoctrination program.

The North judges it can never be certain as to how the Allies would react and invariably expects and prepares for the worst. Thus, it prepares the population to expect reprisals, as was stated in a 2 February KCNA statement that the North is ready for economic and military sanctions.

Taken together, the increased activity at the nuclear test site; the high level official statements; multiple propaganda statements defying the UN and the high level meetings in the aftermath of the UN Resolution tend to reinforce the South Korean warning that a nuclear test is imminent. 

China: For the record. At the daily Foreign Ministry news conference, the spokesman restated China's commitment to the Six-Party Talks and urged all parties to refrain from provocations.


Syria: Syria National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib told Al-Jazeera on Monday he urged President Bashar al-Asad's regime to respond positively to his call for talks and to designate Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa as his representative.

Following meetings on Saturday with Russian and US officials, Khatib said today that he was ready for dialogue with the Damascus regime, subject to some conditions, such as the release of 160,000 detainees. "The regime must take a clear stand and we say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully. It is now in the hands of the regime."

Meanwhile, press sources reported that "large sections" of the opposition rejected Khatib's offer of talks and may be trying to undermine his leadership. The Damascus government has not responded.

Comment: Khatib apparently is convinced that the Asad government cannot be defeated militarily. Khatib's offer of talks appears to be a plea for the Asad government to leave. He appears to have little leverage and the offer has split the opposition movement. Heretofore the opposition conditioned negotiations on the departure of the Asads first.

Egypt-Iran: For the record. Egypt's foreign minister said Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad will visit Cairo this week, marking the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian leader in decades. Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr described Ahmadi-Nejad's visit as routine in that he will be attending a summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Cairo.


Mali: Update. French airstrikes targeted the fuel depots and desert hideouts of Islamic extremists in northern Mali on Monday. A military spokeswoman said that French forces plan to hand control of Timbuktu to the Malian army this week. Five hundred French soldiers left Timbuktu on Monday, beginning a staged withdrawal.

A group of Touareg rebels said they had captured Islamist leaders Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed and Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed as they fled toward the Algerian border. Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, a spokesman for the MNLA rebels, who seek autonomy for Touareg tribesmen, confirmed the capture of the men, adding, "They have been questioned and sent to Kidal."

Comment: Press sources reported that the men were important figures in the Islamist administration, charged with enforcing Sharia punishments, including amputations of hands and feet. They apparently are now in French custody.

End of NightWatch for 4 February.

NightWatch is brought to you by Kforce Government Solutions, Inc. (KGS), a leader in government problem-solving, Data Confidence® and intelligence. Views and opinions expressed in NightWatch are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of KGS, its management, or affiliates.

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