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U.N. to slap North Korea as nuclear test fears mount

October 6, 2006

U.N. to slap North Korea as nuclear test fears mount

By Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO (Reuters) - World powers neared consensus on a statement warning North Korea against a nuclear test on Friday amid speculation the secretive state might detonate a device deep inside an abandoned mine as early as this weekend. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, making his first reported public appearance since the Stalinist state vowed on Tuesday to conduct a nuclear test, held a meeting to rally army commanders. 

A South Korean military police walks past a signboard showing the distance to the North Korean capital Pyongyang from Imjingang Station, of the incomplete inter-Korea railway, near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, about 55 km north of Seoul, October 6, 2006. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
But the country's official KCNA news agency did not mention preparations for a nuclear test in its despatch, which said Kim was welcomed "with stormy cheers of hurrah". 

The soldiers shouted: "Let's fight at the cost of our lives for the respected supreme commander comrade Kim Jong-il". 

At the United Nations late on Thursday, Security Council members reached broad agreement on a statement warning Pyongyang of unspecified consequences if it exploded a nuclear device. 

Analysts say North Korea probably has enough fissile material to make six to eight nuclear bombs but probably does not have the technology to make one small enough to mount on a missile. 

Major powers are concerned that a North Korean nuclear test would shake regional stability and provide ammunition to hawks who want to beef up neighbouring Japan's military capability. 

The U.N. text, which was sent to governments for possible changes before further discussions on Friday, urges Pyongyang to cancel its planned test and return immediately to six-country talks aimed at persuading it to abandon nuclear arms. 

The statement does not include a U.S. proposal to refer to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which lists actions such as sanctions and could ultimately lead to a military strike. 

Diplomats said officials in China, North Korea's closest ally, and Russia may try to change the text. Beijing has insisted that the now-dormant six-party talks -- and not the Security Council -- should be the main forum for resolving the crisis. 

Pyongyang walked out of the talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States last year and has refused to return until Washington ends a squeeze on its offshore finances. 

North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun daily, quoted by KCNA on Friday, said it was time for non-aligned and developing countries to establish a new and fair international financial system. 

Without referring to the U.S. crackdown on impoverished North Korea, the daily said a new monetary order was necessary to check the arbitrary "domination and subjugation" by imperialists. 

TEST THIS WEEKEND? 

The U.S. point man on North Korea, Chris Hill, told CNN that predictions were difficult, but a test "could come very soon". 

Three senior U.S. officials with access to intelligence told Reuters that U.S. speculation about a possible test centred on Sunday, the anniversary of when Kim became head of the national defence commission in 1997. 

They said Pyongyang, which has in the past timed bold actions and announcements to coincide with significant dates, could choose Monday, North Korea Worker's Party Day as well as the U.S. holiday for explorer Christopher Columbus. 

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was circumspect on the timing, however, saying he did not sense tension was mounting. 

"Unlike a rocket, we can't see it, so there is nothing we can say," Aso told reporters in Tokyo. 

Missile tests by North Korea in July were widely anticipated because satellite pictures showed them being prepared for launch. 

However, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, told a news conference: "We are strengthening our readiness with various possibilities in mind". 

A Chinese source briefed by Pyongyang said North Korea planned to conduct its test about 2,000 metres (6,562 feet) under the ground in an abandoned coal mine in the north of the country. 

"They are more or less ready," the source told Reuters after speaking to North Korean officials. He did not give a timetable. 

His comments could not be independently confirmed, but South Korea newspapers reported that although there were thousands of mine shafts that could be used for a test, Seoul and neighbouring countries were closely monitoring three or four sites. 

The Chinese source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pyongyang "may not necessarily test", and might hold off if China and other Asian powers could convince the United States to lift sanctions and open direct dialogue. 

John Park, an expert on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said North Korea's intentions were difficult to gauge. 

"Let's be frank," he said. "We're all dealing with only five percent of the information in North Korea." 

(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim and Chris Buckley in Beijing, Carol Giacomo in Washington and Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations) 

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