quarta-feira, 12 de abril de 2017

North Korea preparing for nuclear test, satellite images suggest / Japanese warships to join US fleet near North Korea as tensions rise

North Korea preparing for nuclear test, satellite images suggest
North’s Punggye-ri site appears to be ready for what would be the country’s sixth nuclear test since 2006

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Thursday 13 April 2017 05.00 BST Last modified on Thursday 13 April 2017 05.28 BST

North Korea appears to be preparing to conduct a nuclear test in a show of defiance towards Donald Trump, who has not ruled out military action to pressure the regime into abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

The US-based monitoring group 38 North said on Thursday that the satellite images from the North’s Punggye-ri site showed it was “primed and ready” for would be the country’s sixth nuclear test since 2006.

 “Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site from April 12 shows continued activity around the North Portal, new activity in the Main Administrative Area, and a few personnel around the site’s Command Center,” 38 North said on its website.

“In the courtyards of the main administrative area are approximately 11 probable tarp-covered pallets of equipment or supplies, a formation of personnel, and several individuals walking about,” the site added.

South Korean officials, however, played down speculation that a nuclear test was imminent. “There has been no unusual activity so far,” Roh Jae-chun, a spokesman for the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, according to Yonhap news agency.

The possibility that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, will again defy international opinion has strengthened since Pyongyang conducted a series of missile tests earlier this year, as it attempts to perfect a nuclear capability capable of striking the US mainland.

On Thursday, foreign journalists in North Korea said they had been told to prepare for a “big and important event”, although it is unlikely that they would be shown around a facility as sensitive as a nuclear test site or missile base.

About 200 reporters, including those from Japan and the US, are in Pyongyang as the country prepares to mark the 105th birth anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung, on Saturday.

Some experts believe the regime is planning to conduct a missile launch or nuclear test to coincide with the anniversary, a hugely significant date in the North Korean calendar known locally as the Day of the Sun.

Journalists said that they had been woken before dawn and told to prepare for the trip, but were not given details of their destination. Previous events open to the foreign media have tended to be low-key, including a pop concert to mark the end of a ruling Korean Workers’ party congress.

Their visit coincides with a significant rise in tensions after the US sent an aircraft carrier strike group towards the Korean peninsula in a move many believe is designed to warn the regime off conducting missile or nuclear tests.

The USS Carl Vinson and its strike group are currently sailing north from Singapore, and are reportedly planning to conduct drills with Japanese self-defence force vessels en route to the waters off the Korean peninsula.

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump said on Wednesday. “We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.” Japan’s Nikkei business paper said on Thursday that the US had sent a “sniffer” plane to Japan to monitor any nuclear tests.

The aircraft, which has been used before to monitor North Korean rocket launches, has arrived on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, the paper said, citing a Japanese self-defence force official.

A nuclear detonation would be the biggest test yet of Trump’s more aggressive stance towards North Korea, coming soon after he warned that the US was prepared to address North Korea’s nuclear threat without help from China, the North’s biggest ally and economic partner.

Earlier this week Trump tweeted: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”

In a phone conversation with Trump on Wednesday, China’s president, Xi Jinping, repeated calls for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue.

“China remains committed to the goal of denuclearising the (Korean) peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving problems through peaceful means,” the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying.

Trump said on Twitter that he and Xi had enjoyed a “very good” conversation about the “menace of North Korea”, and later praised China’s decision to send coal ships back to the North as part of UN sanctions against the regime.

An editorial in the Global Times, a tabloid linked to the Chinese communist party, warned that the recent US airstrike on a Syrian airfield lent greater weight to Trump’s warnings that Washington would respond to any North Korean provocation with or without Beijing’s help.

“The Korean peninsula has never been so close to a military clash since the North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006,” it said, adding that Pyongyang “should avoid making mistakes at this time”.

The China Daily, however, adopted a more cautious tone. “The truth is that although the prospect of war may seem real, no party really wants a war,” the newspaper said. “Many sources indicate Washington is increasing the pressure in the hope that Pyongyang will change course without a shot being fired. Otherwise, it would not have insisted that Beijing could and should help rein in Pyongyang.”

The newspaper called on North Korea to refrain from conducting missile or nuclear tests at the weekend, and urged the US and South Korea to suspend joint military drills that Pyongyang regards as a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

Coupled with recent missile launches, a nuclear test could offer experts a better idea of how far North Korea is from being able to mount a miniaturised nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

On Thursday, Australia’s defence industry minister, Christopher Pyne, said North Korea was developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching Australia and the United States “within two years”.

Pyne made the claim after the acting US ambassador to Australia, James Carouso, said in an interview with the Australian that there was “extreme concern” that North Korea will be able to strike the west coast of the US and Australia with nuclear missiles within that timeframe.

The source of Carouso’s claim wasn’t clear, but many experts believe it will take North Korea several years to perfect an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Additional reporting by Tom Phillips in Beijing

Japanese warships to join US fleet near North Korea as tensions rise
Navy destroyers will join USS Carl Vinson for military drills amid fears Pyongyang plans further nuclear and missile tests

Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong
Wednesday 12 April 2017 08.36 BST Last modified on Thursday 13 April 2017 03.01 BST

Japan is preparing to send several warships to join a US aircraft carrier strike group heading for the Korean peninsula, in a show of force designed to deter North Korea from conducting further missile and nuclear tests.

Citing two well-placed sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, Reuters and the Kyodo news agency said several destroyers from Japan’s maritime self-defence forces would join the USS Carl Vinson and its battle group as it enters the East China Sea.

The move comes as the Chinese president called for calm in the region in a phone conversation with Donald Trump.

China “is committed to the goal of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving problems through peaceful means,” Xi Jinping said, according to CCTV, the state broadcaster.

The call came after a series of tweets in which Trump pressed China to be more active in pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme.

In a pair of tweets, Trump linked trade deals and the future of the US-China relationship to progress on reining in the regime’s nuclear programme.

In another tweet, Trump said he had told Xi any trade deal between the two countries would be “far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem”.

The US aircraft carrier was redeployed from a planned visit to Australia and is sailing north from Singapore towards the Korean peninsula, as speculation mounts that Pyongyang is planning more missile launches to coincide with national anniversaries this month.

North Korea watchers believe the regime could conduct missile tests on or around the 105th anniversary of the birth of the state’s founder, Kim Il-sung, on Saturday, or on the 85th anniversary of the ruling Korean People’s Army on 25 April.

China is the North’s only key diplomatic ally and its largest trading partner, providing a lifeline to the reclusive state.

There are signs China is taking steps to squeeze North Korea and its erratic leader, Kim Jong-un. Chinese authorities have ordered trading companies to return North Korean coal shipments and banned all imports in late February.

To bridge the gap, China started importing coal from the US, the first time in two years, a move that is likely to be viewed favourably in Washington.

The sources said Japanese and US ships would take part in joint exercises, including helicopter landings on each other’s vessels and communications drills, as the Carl Vinson passe d through waters off Japan.

The planned rendezvous is a further sign of increased cooperation between the US, Japanese and South Korean navies. Last month, Aegis ships from the three countr ies held a joint drill to improve their ability to detect and track North Korean missiles.

The Carl Vinson is powered by two nuclear reactors and carries almost 100 aircraft. Its strike group also includes guided-missile destroyers and cruisers. A submarine is also expected to join the group.

“Japan wants to dispatch several destroyers as the Carl Vinson enters the East China Sea,” one of the Japanese sources was quoted as saying.

Reuters said one of the unnamed officials had direct knowledge of the plan, while the other had been briefed about it. Japan’s self-defence forces have not commented on the report.

Chinese media warned that the Korean peninsula was closer to war than at any time since the North conducted the first of its five nuclear tests in 2006.

The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, suggested Chinese public opinion was turning against North Korea and said harsher measures could be needed, including restricting oil shipments.

“Pyongyang can continue its tough stance, however, for its own security, it should at least halt provocative nuclear and missile activities,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time.“

A senior Japanese diplomat said the arrival of a US naval strike group off the peninsula was designed to pressure North Korea into agreeing to a diplomatic solution to its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

“ If you consider overall things such as the fact that the US government has not put out warnings to its citizens in South Korea, I think the risk [of military action) at this point is not high,” the diplomat said.

Some experts in South Korea said an imminent North Korean nuclear test was unlikely. Prof Kim Dong-yub of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University , told the Korea Times a ballistic missile launch was the most likely option, adding that the chances of a nuclear detonation were “very low”.

On Tuesday, North Korea warned of “catastrophic consequences” in response to any further provocations by the US, days after the Carl Vinson began its journey towards the Korean peninsula.

“We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying. “[North Korea] is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”

Reuters contributed to this report

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