New satellite images suggest North Korea would not be ready to conduct a nuclear test before U.S. President Obama leaves the region this week.
Space-based surveillance photographs taken as recently as April 19 show an uptick in activity at the North's Punggye-ri testing grounds compared to early March, according to a Tuesday analysis by the expert website 38 North. That has led to some media conjecture that Pyongyang intends to carry out its fourth atomic test while Obama visits South Korea on Friday and Saturday.
The 38 North analysis acknowledges "that may be possible but appears unlikely," based on a reading of the commercial satellite images and takeaways from previous atomic detonations by the North.
"Recent operations at Punggye-ri have not reached the high level of intensity -- in terms of vehicle, personnel and equipment movement -- that occurred in the weeks prior to past detonations," said 38 North, which is a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. "Moreover, other possible indicators ... such as communications vans and a satellite dish intended to transmit pre-test data, have not been spotted."
According to the analysis, there is a chance the increased activity is related to maintenance work made possible by improved weather conditions.
Pyongyang has repeated threats in recent weeks that it is prepared to carry out a "new" kind of nuclear test, which might allude to a different form of device or multiple trial blasts.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in a Wednesday phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, urged him to work harder to persuade Pyongyang not to carry out another nuclear test, Agence France-Presse reported.
However, the Kim Jong Un regime on Wednesday blasted Park's lobbying efforts, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Seoul "should not even dream that we will be coaxed into laying down our nuclear" weapon efforts by words alone, Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.