South Korean officials declined to comment Sunday on reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has called for a third nuclear test in protest at UN sanctions against the reclusive state.
Open Radio of North Korea, a Seoul-based rights group, quoting unnamed Pyongyang sources said last week that Kim had told military and ruling party officials to prepare for a new test.
The North conducted a first such test in 2006 and a second in May, sparking tough UN Security Council sanctions.
According to Open Radio, Kim said during a trip to Wonsan on the east coast on August 26 that a third test was needed to nudge the United States towards bilateral talks as well as to protest UN sanctions.
Seoul’s unification ministry and National Intelligence Service, which both handle cross-border relations, Sunday declined to comment on the allegations.
Young Howard, head of Open Radio of North Korea, on Wednesday separately told Seoul-based PBC radio that a third nuclear test would very likely use enriched uranium, instead of the plutonium used in the first two tests.
He said he expected the test to occur between September 20 and October 10.
September 20 marks the end of the North’s new “150-day” campaign for boosting its economy, while October 10 is the anniversary of the founding of the North’s communist party.
North Korea has in the past chosen symbolic dates to stage weapons tests.
The US government said on Friday it was ready to hold direct talks with North Korea in a bid to bring Pyongyang back to six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations, marking a significant policy shift.
North Korea quit the six-way talks in April in protest at UN censure of a rocket launch. The UN Security Council then tightened sanctions on North Korea after it staged its nuclear test in May.
Washington had previously said that bilateral talks with Pyongyang would come only within the framework of six-party talks which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
Meanwhile, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday that Kim had praised his forces as “an iron wall” to defend the country during a visit to an undisclosed navy unit in his latest field trip.
“Our socialist motherland will always remain an invulnerable fortress and eternally prosper as the matchless great army is standing guard over the nation’s defence line as an iron wall,” Kim said.
KCNA did not give a date for the visit.