North Korea ’s intention to test a nuclear bomb caused high-level officials from South Korea and the United States to begin negotiations on this subject on Monday.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill called a potential nuclear weapons test by the North "very provocative," "very negative" and "very harmful" to efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, but said he doesn't have information whether a test is imminent.
Hill made the comment after talks with South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok. The U.S. diplomat arrived in Seoul earlier in the day on the final leg of an Asian tour that also took him to Japan and China.
Concerns have persisted in recent weeks that North Korea may be preparing to conduct its first known nuclear test following reports last month of suspicious activity at a suspected North Korean underground nuclear testing site. Later that month, South Korea's main spy agency said the communist regime could test a nuclear device at any time.
On Monday, South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung told a parliamentary meeting that a nuclear test by the North remains a possibility, according to his ministry. He didn't elaborate.
North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons but has not performed any known tests to verify it has successfully built them. Many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons.
Such fears, coupled with tensions in the wake of the North's missile launches in July, have inspired fresh calls for resuming the stalled six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program. But there has been no sign that the talks, involving China, Japan, Koreas, Russia and the U.S., could reopen anytime soon.
Hill said North Korea is making a mistake by boycotting the talks, the AP reports.
"Sometimes, small countries can make terrible mistakes. That's really what they are doing," he said upon arrival in South Korea. "They are causing a lot of difficulties and really disturbing harmony in the whole region."
North Korea has been refusing to attend the nuclear forum in anger at U.S. efforts to choke off the North's access to international banking over its alleged currency counterfeiting and other wrongdoing.
Pyongyang has demanded direct talks with the U.S., but Washington has said it would only meet the North along with other countries. Hill repeated Monday that the U.S. would talk to North Korean officials on the sidelines of the six-party talks "as many times as they would like."
The six-party talks have produced an agreement about a year ago where Pyongyang promised to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.