- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010

SEOUL | North Korea may be preparing to carry out a third nuclear test, analysts and a high-ranking defector said Wednesday, as the North demanded recognition as an official nuclear weapons state.

Speculation that communist North Korea might conduct another nuclear test, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, increased after the South Korean cable network YTN reported Tuesday that the North has been preparing since February to conduct a test in May or June. YTN cited an unidentified diplomatic source.

Meanwhile, South Korean police said they had tightened security for a high-ranking North Korean defector after authorities arrested two North Koreans accused of spying and plotting to assassinate him.

The move came a day after prosecutors said the two elite North Korean military officers had tried to kill defector Hwang Jang-yop after they entered South Korea in the guise of defectors.

Tensions are high on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship near the maritime border with North Korea. Pyongyang has denied any responsibility for the incident.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said he had no information to suggest preparations for a nuclear test were under way, and U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also voiced skepticism in a briefing Tuesday.

But analysts and a former North Korean official said recent statements hint of preparations for another test.

Earlier this month, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in comments carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) that the regime would “increase and modernize” its nuclear arsenal to defend against the United States.

“As long as the U.S. nuclear threat persists, we will increase and modernize various-type nuclear weapons as deterrent” in the days ahead, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also repeated calls for a permanent peace treaty with the United States to replace a decades-old armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Washington has rejected a peace treaty as long as Pyongyang refuses to end its nuclear program.

Late Wednesday, KCNA published a memo laying out the regime’s nuclear policy — but vowing that it won’t overproduce atomic weapons.

“It will manufacture nukes as much as it deems necessary but will neither participate in nuclear arms race nor produce them more than it feels necessary,” the memo said. “It will join the international nuclear disarmament efforts with an equal stand with other nuclear weapons states.”

The wording indicates that North Korea’s regime is determined to possess nuclear weapons and wants to strengthen leader Kim Jong-il’s grip on power by showing its 24 million citizens that their leader can defy U.S. pressure, a high-ranking defector told the Associated Press.

Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the North’s ruling Workers Party — who once mentored leader Kim Jong-il — defected to the South in 1997. He has written books and given lectures condemning Mr. Kim’s regime as totalitarian and now lives under police protection 24 hours a day to prevent North Korean attempts on his life.

On Tuesday, Seoul prosecutors arrested two North Korean army majors for entering South Korea by posing as ordinary defectors with an alleged mission to kill the 87-year-old Mr. Hwang, according to Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

From combined dispatches

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