SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — If North Korea carried out a third nuclear test, it would seriously undermine international and regional security, a senior American commander warned Friday.
Adm. Robert Willard's comments were prompted by a South Korean newspaper report that said a U.S. spy satellite detected activity at the North's main nuclear test site and that a detonation could be made in three months. South Korean officials played down the report, saying the activity didn't seem unusual.
Responding to questions about the report, Willard told reporters Friday that the North's nuclear capabilities poses a grave threat to the region and that another atomic bomb test — which would be the country's third — would be a "very serious matter."
"I think the prospect of any next provocation ... would be a very serious matter for the international community, for the Republic of Korea and the for the alliance as a whole," he said. He did not comment on the likelihood of such a test.
The head of the U.S. Pacific Command was speaking at a joint news conference in Seoul with Gen. Han Min-koo, chief of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. Han said the South is keeping an eye on its neighbor and working to deter any planned test.
North Korea carried out its first nuclear test in 2006 and a second, more powerful one last year drew international sanctions.
Just before the test, the North had walked out of talks aimed at ending its nuclear program, and the international community has since been trying to draw it back to the table.
Tensions between the Koreas — which are still technically at war because their conflict ended with a truce, not a treaty — have been at historic highs in recent months following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea flatly denies attacking the vessel, which went down with 46 sailors.
Recently, however, the North has taken a series of conciliatory gestures such as releasing South Korean and American detainees, and proposing the resumption of stalled joint projects with South Korea and indicating it is ready to talk again about its nuclear program.
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