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North Korea May Be Preparing for a First Nuclear Test

United States officials are reportedly monitoring spy satellite photos, that appear to show North Korea may be preparing for a first nuclear test.

North Korea may be on the verge of testing a nuclear weapon for the first time. Major American newspapers, citing unnamed U.S. defense and intelligence officials, say American spy satellites have detected possible preparations for a nuclear test.

The images are said to show tunnels in the ground, similar to ones Pakistan built before its 1998 nuclear test.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey downplayed the reports saying, "We don't have any new assessment."

Just days ago, North Korea test-fired a missile toward Japan, much like this test from 1998.

The North stated unequivocally, in February, that it had nuclear weapons... a claim that cannot be verified

For months, it has boycotted six-nation talks on its nuclear program. Washington is strongly urging Pyongyang to resume negotiations.

"We believe that anything that North Korea does that takes it further away from bringing those talks online only serves to isolate it, only serves to hurt the interests of North Korea and its people," says Tom Casey.

But Joe Winder, president of the Korea Economic Institute, and a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, says Pyongyang has little incentive to cooperate, because it is not isolated.

"Why should they? If you were North Korea, and you're saying, well you're getting all you need from the outside world. China's providing you with enough food and oil, South Korea's giving you enough economic assistance," says Joe Winder.

At the United Nations, Mohamed El-Baradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, seen here in Library pictures, urged world leaders to press North Korea to return to the six-nation talks. He said a nuclear test could have disastrous political and environmental consequences for Asia. Mr. Winder says a nuclear test could also work against the North Koreans.

"Now that's a risk because that makes it unambiguous, and it's been the ambiguity about their nuclear program that's enabled China and South Korea to continue to deal with North Korea," says Mr. Winder.

North Korea says it will continue to stay away from six-party negotiations, until the U.S. drops what it calls a hostile policy toward Kim Jong Il's regime.