UN experts report North Korea is testing nuclear trigger

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea is testing a “nuclear trigger” and preparations for another nuclear test entered the final stages in June, U.N. experts said, citing information from an unnamed country.

In a new excerpt from the latest report obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, the panel said they were “unable to determine the location and date of a nuclear trigger device test reported by a United Nations member state.”

In excerpts obtained on Thursday, experts said North Korea was making new preparations for its northeastern test site, paving the way for further nuclear tests and continuing to develop its ability to produce key components of nuclear weapons.

“As of early June, two member states assessed that preparations for the nuclear test were in the final stages,” the panel said in a new excerpt.

Among other issues, the panel said in an excerpt Thursday that North Korea has carried out two major hacks this year that have resulted in the theft of “hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of cryptocurrency assets. It said Pyongyang also continued to violate United Nations sanctions by using the same companies, networks and vessels to illegally import oil and export coal.

South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials said they found North Korea trying to prepare for another nuclear test at its Northeastern Punggye-ri test site. It would be North Korea’s seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to install on its intercontinental ballistic missile.

The panel’s report to the UN Security Council provided some details of the work being carried out on the ground by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known.

Experts said they observed North Korea starting re-excavation work at the entrance to the Punggye-ri No. 3 tunnel in March, “and rebuilding the supporting structures that were originally demolished in May 2018.”

“Satellite imagery shows an increase in the number of vehicle tracks around this secondary entrance starting in mid-February 2022, followed by the construction of a new building near the entrance in early March,” the panel said. “Around the same time, it was also found that A pile of timber that might be used to build the tunnel structure.”

“During this period, we observed mounds of earth excavated from the tunnel around the entrance,” it added.

“The work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site paves the way for further nuclear testing to develop nuclear weapons,” the experts said, adding that this was a goal raised at the eighth congress of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. January 2021.

Robert Floyd, head of the U.N. Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, told a U.N. news conference on Friday that its monitoring facilities had detected six of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests. “If there’s a seventh, I’m pretty confident that our systems will pick it up, we’ll characterize it, and then share that information with countries around the world,” he said.

Floyd is participating in a high-level meeting to review the landmark nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which begins on Monday and ends on Aug. 26. Under the NPT, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and France — agreed to negotiate to eliminate their nuclear arsenals one day, with countries without nuclear weapons pledging not to acquire them in exchange for An assurance that nuclear energy can be developed for peaceful purposes.

Floyd raised the question of whether the possibility of North Korea’s seventh nuclear test would strengthen or weaken non-proliferation and disarmament arrangements, “and the willingness of countries to see these things implemented.”

“I wonder to what extent that actually affected the tone of what we heard during the review session this week, where there were quite a few tweaks to various positions,” he said.

“I wonder if it’s a moment like this that states realize that it’s really important to strengthen the NPT and unite around some of these very important issues, and not, ‘Oh, this is why we should give up on things like nuclear weapons Something as important as a building block,” Freud said.

In another aspect of North Korea’s nuclear program, analysts said satellite images from last September showed North Korea was expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility, a sign that it wanted to boost production of key bomb materials.

“North Korea continues to develop its capability to produce nuclear fissile material at the Yongbyon site,” UN experts said in the new report.

Nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled since 2019 amid disagreements over North Korea’s demands to lift severe U.S.-led sanctions and Washington’s demands for Pyongyang to take major steps toward nuclear disarmament.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expanded his ballistic missile program during a diplomatic pause, and analysts said another nuclear test would escalate his brinkmanship aimed at cementing North Korea’s status as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength .

The panel said North Korea continued to accelerate its missile program, launching 31 missiles that “combined ballistic and guidance technologies,” including six intercontinental ballistic missiles and two “explicitly described as ballistic weapons.” North Korea also claims to have advanced the development of “tactical nuclear weapons,” it said.

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