WASHINGTON – Recent satellite imagery shows no sign that North Korea is readying another long-range rocket launch within the next month or another nuclear test, a U.S. research institute said Tuesday.
North Korea has said it would conduct more rocket launches and has also hinted at a follow-up to its Feb. 12 atomic test.
In recent days, the North has threatened a nuclear strike on the U.S. and said it was scuttling the cease-fire on the Korean Peninsula. James Clapper, the director of U.S. intelligence, said Tuesday the North posed a serious threat to the U.S. and East Asia and that it could attack South Korea.
But at least at the North's two rocket test facilities, things appear quiet.
Very little is going on at the Sohae site on the west coast from where a satellite was launched in December, according to an analysis written for 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. There has been recent activity at the older Tonghae launch site on its northeast coast, although it's unclear to what end.
Joel Wit, the 38 North editor and a former State Department official, said that as of end February, aerial photos also showed no indications of another nuclear test — although preparations for such an underground blast are more tricky to detect.
"While inter-Korean rhetoric is heating up," Wit said, "Pyongyang is unlikely to do anything provocative in the near-term" at least in terms of testing its weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea already has missiles that could hit South Korea and Japan but is still believed to be a ways from deploying a missile that could be wedded to a nuclear warhead and target the U.S.
It appears to be progressing toward that goal, however, and Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that North Korea has also taken initial steps toward fielding what appears to be a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. He said it hasn't yet tested the missile, the KN-08, which was displayed at a military parade last April. At the time, some experts questioned whether it was just a mock-up.
North Korea's next steps are being closed watched. Tensions have ratcheted up after the U.N. Security Council tightened sanctions last week, raising the prospect the North could conduct another weapons' test or lash out against rival South Korea.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters Tuesday there were no signs that North Korea could conduct additional nuclear and missile tests anytime soon, or launch some other provocation.
Past experience suggests North could take its time to react. It faced international condemnation for rocket and nuclear tests in 2009, and 10 months later was implicated in the sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 seamen.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.