On the eve of US-North Korea financial talks, which have been tentatively set to take place on the week starting January 22, the idea of a second nuclear test by the DPRK is being talked about yet again.

Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese lawmaker Taku Yamasaki quoting North Korean official Song Il-ho as saying that a second nuclear test would depend on US actions.

The Koreans have an interest in upping pressure on the US to succumb to North Korean demands, including those of lifting financial sanctions. Kim Jong-il’s government has no leverage in the nuclear talks, except for the country’s nuclear capability itself. If talks continue in deadlock — and North Korea is unwilling to make concessions — then a second nuclear test could become the only effective way to pursue the country’s interests. Right now, North Korea’s best tool is the threat of such a test.

Neither the US nor North Korea want another test to take place. A test would spell disaster for the US, with North Korea solidifying its place as a nuclear power; for North Korea, it would leave little options to further bargain and would probably be too costly for the financially depleted regime. In that sense, the threat of a test remains North Korea’s best weapon in advancing its interests in the nuclear negotiations.

Until those negotiations resume, North Korea will take every opportunity to mention a second nuclear test. While there is little probability of such a test occuring in the next few months, the threat itself adds urgency to the issue. And North Korea looks to be urgently in need of US financial cooperation.

North Korea must, however, be prudent in its rhetoric. If it speaks too belligerently, it may isolate itself further by looking un-cooperative. This is why North Korean officials often make statements, such as Song Il-ho’s, via news agencies and other officials. This way, it is always possible to refute a statement officially, if it causes too much of a stir.

Dmitri Marine blogs on Blogue North

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