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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Monitor: Satellite Images Show N. Korea Nuclear Test Could Be Near

by Megan Duzor May 06, 2016

A U.S. monitoring group said Friday that North Korea might be preparing to carry out a nuclear test as the communist country holds its first ruling party congress in 36 years.

The website 38 North, run by Johns Hopkins University, said satellite images taken over North Korea's nuclear test site show vehicle movement at a command center, where there is often no activity "except during preparations for a test."

South Korean officials have been on alert in the event of a North Korean nuclear test.

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, opened the seventh Workers' Party Congress on Friday, hailing the country's recent nuclear test and launch of a satellite into space. Kim told thousands of delegates that his nuclear weapons and missile programs had brought "dignity and national power" to North Korea.

Dressed in a Western-style suit and tie, Kim was flanked by his top military aide as he addressed the party congress.

Kim, who was not even born when the last congress was held in 1980, praised the country's scientists for "creating milestone miracles," including the "sound of the first H-bomb of our republic." Western experts have questioned the North's claim of detonating a hydrogen bomb in January, saying the detected yield from the test was too small to be that of a thermonuclear bomb.

Kim also highlighted the launch in February of a satellite widely seen as a means for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The speech was shown late Friday on state-run television. Foreign journalists who had been invited to cover the event in Pyongyang were not allowed inside the congress venue and were instead ushered back to their hotels to watch the event on television.

The congress, likely to last several days, is expected to consolidate Kim's control over the country. It is also expected to formally endorse Kim's "byungjin" policy of pursuing nuclear weapons alongside the creation of economic development.

"The party congress will be a historic opportunity marking a new milestone in a struggle for consolidating and developing the glorious party adhered to the ideology of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as well as completing the great achievements of socialism," Kim said.

The last party congress in North Korea was held when Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, was president. Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who rarely spoke in public, did not hold a party convention.

Preparation for the congress involved mobilizing the entire country in a 70-day campaign of intensified productivity, and cleaning up the capital.

U.S. response

The United States says it is in close consultation with its Asian allies to monitor the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

"We will continue to look at ways we can apply and increase pressure on them, at the same time as we ensure that the security of the peninsula is kept ironclad," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper arrived in Seoul earlier this week.

Clapper met with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and discussed security issues, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. The possibility of another nuclear test from North Korea was also discussed.

"Kim Jong Un will need to deliver a report that summarizes the Korean Workers' Party's accomplishments since the last congress in 1980 and present new policy directions. As for the new policy directions, I expect him to highlight the byungjin line," James Person of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington told VOA Thursday.

But Person does not expect any new major policy directions in economic development because North Korea's Workers' Party Congress meetings are usually "scripted affairs" and typically do not offer major policy announcements.

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