North Korea readies nuke test
This appears to be a victory for the young dear leader, Kim Jong Un, as there were some rumblings of opposition to testing both the nuclear device and the long range missile which went off last month.
Kim's confrontational approach appears to be the policy in North Korea now.
North Korea could be almost ready to carry out its threat to conduct a nuclear test, a U.S. research institute said, pointing to recent satellite photos.
The images of the Punggye-ri site where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009 reveal that over the past month roads have been kept clear of snow and that North Koreans may have been sealing the tunnel into a mountainside where a nuclear device would be detonated.
But it remains difficult to discern North Korea's true intentions as a test would be conducted underground.
The analysis was provided Friday to The Associated Press by 38 North, the website of U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The latest image was taken Wednesday.
North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission declared its plans Thursday after the U.N. Security Council tightened sanctions in response to a December long-range rocket launch. It described it as part of a "new phase" of combat with the United States, which retains 28,000 troops in South Korea and which it blames for leading the U.N. bid to punish Pyongyang.
The North said a nuclear test was part of "upcoming" action but did not say exactly when or where it would take place.
38 North concludes that the Punggye-ri site, in the country's northeast, "appears to continue to be at a state of readiness that would allow the North to move forward with a test in a few weeks or less once the leadership in Pyongyang gives the order."
South Korean media have cited intelligence officials as saying technical preparations appear complete and the North could be ready to test within days of making a decision to do so.
Kim's impoverished, starving country needs foreign aid. He may figure it's easier to negotiate with his neighbors if they are suitably motivated by thinking he's crazy enough to launch. His father successfully used this tactic in the past and it worked - to some extent. Eventually, under the Bush administration, the US took the near unprecedented step of suspending food shipments for lack of progress in the talks.
Kim doesn't have nearly the experience as his father and this tactic may be even riskier given the plight of the peasants. A revolt by ordinary citizens is extremely unlikely, but in the bizarro world of the North Korean leadership clique, another faction may make a play for power if there is unrest in the provinces due to lack of food.