Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Experts and informed sources raised the possibility that North Korea may conduct another rocket launch to perfect its long-range missile capabilities and use them to negotiate with the US, possibly next year.
Good Friends, a Seoul-based rights group, cited an official with the North's Workers' Party late Wednesday as saying that Pyongyang plans to fire an additional rocket with equipment in the northeastern town of Dongchang, which the communist country used for its failed launch on April 13.
"Outsiders are making a big fuss about a third nuclear test. Strategically, we'll concentrate their attention on Punggye-ri," the source was quoted as saying, referring to the North's atomic testing site in the northwest. The official did not give a time frame.
"There are a few units of long-range rockets around Dongchang-ri and a nuclear test is being prepared in Punggye-ri. There will be no nuclear test before a second rocket launch."
The remarks contrast prevailing predictions of an imminent nuclear test. The communist state detonated atomic devices after rocket tests in 2006 and 2009.
If Pyongyang goes ahead with another rocket launch, it will likely spark further international actions and complicate its relations with China, its sole ally.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, said that mastering intercontinental ballistic missile technology through a successful liftoff and then carrying out an atomic test is Pyongyang's primary goal for this year.
"A nuclear test will have a limited effect in threatening the US and its allies if the North has a nuclear weapon but no ability to carry it," he told The Korea Herald.
"If it succeeds this time, the North will use the ICBM technology as its leverage to strike a grand compromise with the US next year."
Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses echoed Cheong's view.
Despite China's warnings, North Korea is likely to conduct another rocket launch or even an atomic test to buffer the shock from the recent failure, shore up its military status and cement its image as a strong country, he said.
"The failed rocket launch dealt a serious blow to Kim Jong-un, his political dignity and the whole regime," Baek said.
"The North admitted its failure and is confident about what went wrong last time. It may want to make up its leeway."
Hours after the launch, Pyongyang confessed to its breakdown, a rare move for the unruly regime. The Unha-3 broke into pieces and crashed into the sea minutes after takeoff.
The U.N. Security Council has added three more North Korean state firms to its blacklist following the April 13 event, which Seoul, Washington and other allies called an attempt to test its long-range ballistic missile capabilities.
Pyongyang claims to have tried putting a satellite into orbit for scientific missions.
On Thursday, North Korea reiterated it will continue to build up its nuclear arsenal and developing other defense skills "at any cost" to "safeguard its dignity and sovereignty", scouting international calls to give up nuclear ambitions.
The cash-strapped state has taken an increasingly hostile tone against its southern neighbour in recent weeks. Last month, it threatened to turn Seoul to ashes in minutes in retaliation for perceived insults during its commemoration of the centenary of the birth of founding leader, Kim Il-sung.