An enlarged meeting of North Korea’s powerful Central Military Commission this weekend may have been another step towards Kim Jong Un formally authorizing a third nuclear test, widely expected to be carried out in the near future.
The public announcement of the enlarged meeting of the military commission, which also featured members of the Korean People’s Army Supreme Command and commanding officers of North Korea’s large combined units, was highly unusual, and perhaps unprecedented.
Though a KCNA report issued on the meeting this weekend did not mention a nuclear test specifically, it did say that “the enlarged meeting of the WPK Central Military Commission discussed the issue of bringing about a great turn in bolstering up the military capability”. Kim Jong Un also reportedly gave a speech at the enlarged meeting, which KCNA said “serves as guidelines for further strengthening the KPA…and defending the security and sovereignty of the country…”
Meanwhile, this weekend South Korean President Lee Myung Bak made an unannounced visit to the underground bunker at the presidential compound, where he was told that the North has completed all technical preparations to carry out a nuclear test. Afterwards, the president ordered the government and military to “stay vigilant and prepare for the test and its aftermath.”
Diplomats from China, South Korea and the U.S. were also scrambling this weekend, not only in an attempt to get North Korea to postpone the test, but also to lay the ground work for further sanctions if Pyongyang goes through with the test as expected.
Kicking off the diplomatic communications, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan talked to incoming Secretary of State John Kerry this Sunday, with both nations vowing to “firmly” deal with the possible nuclear test and any other future provocations. Kerry also talked with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, with the two agreeing to ask North Korea to “refrain” from conducting the nuclear test.
For his part, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung Nam was expected to fly to China on Sunday to talk with Wu Dawei, China’s chief nuclear envoy. Lim was expected to repeat familiar messages on behalf of Seoul; that a nuclear test would hurt regional security, denuclearization was necessary for peace and stability, and that China should do more to pressure the North.
Though the Chinese Foreign Ministry has reportedly summoned North Korean ambassador Ji Jae Ryong to China on numerous occasions to express concerns, none of these meetings have ever been made public due to the special relationship between the two countries.
North Korea made clear, as it has done in the past, that it considers any form of sanctions to be an act of war. In an “Information Bulletin” released on Saturday, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) announced that “The DPRK is fully ready for both economic and military “sanctions”, and anyone who encroaches upon its dignity and sovereignty even a bit with any form of ‘sanctions’ will not be able to avoid deadly retaliation. The Lee group should bear in mind that its participation in the “sanctions” against the DPRK will lead to a historical grand war for national reunification.”
Today U.S. and South Korean forces began a naval drill in the East Sea, which some believed designed to send a warning to North Korea. Interestingly, the drills will mark the first time in 19 years an American nuclear submarine has entered South Korean waters. KCNA responded to the drills by saying the U.S. and South Korea were “going busy with dangerous war exercises against the DPRK, while kicking up a racket for ‘sanctions’ against it over its satellite launch for peaceful purposes.”