In the past few days there’s been reports of activity in North Korea, with concerns over the possibility of a second nuclear test by the DPRK. In response, the Koreans have said the US is carrying out training exercises on hitting “major” targets in the DPRK.

A likely scenario of what actually is going on is that the US is verifying the reports and is scouting information on North Korea’s strategic position. Obviously, North Korea would not want to admit that it may (or may not) be planning another test, because that makes up the strength of its negotiating position in the six party talks which will have to resume eventually.

The fact that the possibility of a test is being mentioned and that the Koreans are responding, means that something is up. While its impossible to say with certainty that the DPRK is actually planning a nuclear test, the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Abe has warned against such action means that the North Koreans have the technological capability to carry out another test.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Song and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have also warned the DPRK.

Song has also said that the six party talks must resume soon. The Foreign Minister declined to offer a strict deadline, which means that the six parties are in the process of negotiating the next round of negotiations. That would explain why the Koreans would increase activity as a show of what’s at stake and the reminder of its October test. The US would also show reveal its capabilities by explicitly flying over North Korea.

The parties want to avoid the deadlock characteristic of December’s talks, the first in over a year.

All things considered, a nuclear test by the DPRK is unlikely before the next round of negotiations. If those fail, however, that may change. The DPRK has been cornered with effective financial sanctions that it desperately wants lifted. Those sanctions likely played a big part in the October 9 test and may still play a part in further developments in the nuclear standoff.

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