North Korea expands restoration at nuke test site to second tunnel: Report

South Korean officials said that the timing of the next nuclear test lies solely with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. PHOTO: AFP/KCNA

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea appears to be expanding restoration work at its nuclear test site to include a second tunnel, a US-based think tank said on Thursday (June 16), as South Korean and US officials say a new nuclear test could happen any day.

Work and preparations at Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility are apparently now complete and ready for a possible nuclear test, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said in a report, citing commercial satellite imagery.

For the first time, analysts spotted new construction activity at Tunnel No. 4 as well, "strongly suggesting an effort to re-enable it for potential future testing," the report added.

Outside of Tunnel No. 3, images showed a retaining wall and some minor landscaping with small trees or bushes, likely in anticipation of a visit by senior officials, the report said.

North Korea conducted six underground nuclear tests at the site from 2006 to 2017.

The two tunnels were never previously used for nuclear tests, and their entrances were demolished in 2018 when North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Leader Kim Jong Un has said he is no longer bound by that moratorium because of a lack of reciprocal steps by the United States during denuclearisation talks, and Pyongyang resumed testing ICBMs this year.

South Korean officials said this week that North Korea is poised to conduct a nuclear test "at any time," and that the timing now lies solely with Mr Kim.

South Korea’s defence ministry spokesman, when asked about the report, said it was closely monitoring developments on North Korea’s nuclear activity together with US intelligence authorities but declined to make any further comment.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said on Monday after talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington that any provocation by North Korea, including a nuclear test, would be met with a united, firm response.

He urged China, for years North Korea’s only major ally, to use its influence.  

Mr Park also vowed to work to normalise an intelligence sharing pact with Japan "as soon as possible" to boost their responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.  

The accord, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), had been a backbone of trilateral security information sharing by South Korea, the United States and Japan.  

But South Korea had considered scrapping the pact with Japan in late 2019, during a period of strained ties, before a last-minute decision to renew it in the face of US pressure.  

South Korean officials have said that since then, intelligence sharing with Japan had not been as smooth as it was before. 

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