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Experts Warn of Further Provocations by North Korea

FILE - People look at a map of the border area between North and South Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

North Korea could take further provocative actions after the latest nuclear test that drew strong protests from the international community, experts in Seoul warned.

With its fourth nuclear test, the communist country is likely to accelerate its effort to seek the status of a nuclear-armed state, experts said. Washington reaffirmed its position that it would not give Pyongyang such a recognition.

“We do not and will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, and actions such as this latest test only strengthen our resolve,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement after the test.

Kim Tae-woo, a nuclear expert who specializes in the North Korean nuclear issue, said Pyongyang will pursue its longstanding demand for a peace treaty with Washington while keeping nuclear weapons.

Nuclear-armed state

“North Korea wants the nuclear recognition without joining the NPT,” said Kim in reference to an international treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology.

“The peace treaty that they are seeking is an attempt to withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea,” Kim added.

Last week, Pyongyang offered to halt nuclear tests in return for an end to joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul and a peace treaty with Washington.

Some warned Pyongyang could conduct a long-range rocket launch or another submarine-launched ballistic missile test in response to fresh sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.

Existing U.N. sanctions ban Pyongyang from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

Jeon Ok-hyun, a former senior official with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, said North Korea’s provocations against South Korea is also a possibility.

“North Korea’s provocations could come in various forms, including cyberattacks and military actions,” said the former intelligence official.

Internal politics

A senior South Korean official, who asked to remain anonymous, said Pyongyang’s internal politics could aggravate the situation, citing the absence of Jang Song Thaek and Kim Yang Gon.

Jang, Kim Jong Un’s uncle, was executed in late 2013. Kim Yang Gon, Pyongyang’s top official on Seoul, died in a mysterious traffic accident last month. Jang and Kim were known as moderates.

With both gone, Pyongyang is likely to harden its stance on Seoul, according to the official.

The official warned Pyongyang could respond to Seoul’s resumption of propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts militarily, which could trigger a military confrontation between the two sides.

Nam Seong-wook, former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research institute run by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, expected Pyongyang to take a “low-key approach” toward Seoul for the time being.

Focus on internal matters

Instead, Pyongyang is likely to focus on internal matters in an attempt to solidify internal support for Kim Jong Un in anticipation of a major party gathering in May. The nuclear test is being touted as Kim’s achievement in North Korea, according to Nam.

On Tuesday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye called for “strong and effective” measures in the U.N. Security Council in response to North Korea’s nuclear test.

Park warned a failure to take action would send a wrong signal to Pyongyang.

Park’s warning came amid a flurry of diplomatic activities by the United States, Japan and South Korea to work on a U.N. response to the North Korean move.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.