S. KOREA: NO EVIDENCE OF NORTH NUKE TEST
By BO-MI LIM, Associated Press Writer Fri Aug 18, 6:59 AM ET
SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea said Friday it has no clear evidence that communist North Korea
is preparing for a nuclear test, responding to a news report citing a U.S. official saying intelligence showed possible signs
of an upcoming test.
"I haven't heard that we
have confirmed clear evidence that North Korea
is pursuing a nuclear test," Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told lawmakers at a committee hearing.
Lee said there is frequent
speculation about the North's nuclear program, but that not all of it turns out to be true.
"We are closely monitoring
North Korea's activities related to the
nuclear program and missiles," he said.
Lee Yong-joon, head of the
South Korean Foreign Ministry's task force on the North Korea nuclear issue,
said South Korea was monitoring movements in North
Korea in close cooperation with the United States.
He declined to comment directly on the report about a possible test, citing protocol.
The United States and South Korea
"share all intelligence and evaluations" related to North Korean movements, Lee told The Associated Press.
South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, also declined to comment directly on the report.
"We cannot specifically
confirm the report as it is an intelligence matter," a spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.
The comments came after
ABC News quoted an unidentified State Department official as saying a North Korean nuclear test was "a real possibility."
The report also cited an
unidentified senior U.S. military official as saying that a U.S. intelligence agency recently had seen "suspicious vehicle movement" at a suspected test
site, including the unloading of reels of cable outside an underground facility in northeast North Korea.
Such cables are connected
to outside monitoring equipment and could be a possible sign of an upcoming test. The report said the White House was told
about the intelligence last week.
The White House declined
to confirm the report, but an official there who refused to be identified said Washington's position was that a "North Korean
nuclear test would be an extremely provocative action that would draw universal condemnation from the international community."
North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons but has not conducted any known test that would confirm that assertion.
A June report from the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said the North had enough radioactive
material to build between four and 13 bombs.
U.S. officials said in May 2005 that they detected possible signs of a nuclear test, citing construction of a tunnel and
a reviewing stand, but nothing more happened at that time.
The North test-fired seven
missiles last month over international objections, drawing U.N. Security Council sanctions. No progress
has been made since then on the impasse, and the North has refused to return to international talks on its nuclear programs
that have been stalled since November.
A researcher with links
to the South Korean intelligence community said Friday that "caution is needed" when dealing with observations of activity
inside North Korea because their intentions
are often unclear, declining to comment directly on the latest report.
He said it was too early
to say whether a test was imminent from a single piece of information, noting that equipment to measure radioactivity and
seismic activity, as well as excavators, would have to be in place for a nuclear test.
Also, people would have
to be evacuated from near the possible test site, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of