IAEA chief to travel to South Korea amid concerns over North Korean nuclear test

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, is making a four-day trip to South Korea, as concerns grow that North Korea is preparing another nuclear test.

“The IAEA chief’s four-day visit to South Korea this week is a tantalizing opportunity for North Korea to conduct its much-anticipated seventh nuclear test,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at the Fletcher School of the Tufts University and Korea expert. Digital Fox News. “While Mr. Grossi has openly stated that he wishes to visit Pyongyang and meet Kim Jong Un, North Korean leaders have shown a propensity to rub, i.e. add insult to injury, with each nuclear test, thereby bolstering their influence for the next round of talks”.

Lee’s comments come as the Korea Times reported on Monday that Rossi will travel to South Korea on Tuesday at the invitation of the South Korean foreign ministry, meeting with Foreign Minister Park Jin to discuss North Korea’s continued nuclear development. The two are also expected to discuss Japan’s plans to dispose of radioactive water from its Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean next year, about which South Korean officials have expressed concern.

The meeting comes as concerns have grown that North Korea may be on the cusp of another nuclear weapons test amid reports that Tunnel 3 at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has been ready for a test since May , the same site as the country’s 2018 nuclear test.


The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi.
(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

“Tunnel 3 at its nuclear test site has been ignited since May. While few, if any, outside North Korea know exactly when the next nuclear test will come, it is fair to assume that the timing will suggest a major insult or celebration,” she said.

Grossi’s trip to South Korea will be the first since he took office in December 2019 and the first for an IAEA director general since September 2017, something Lee says can be seen as an opportunity for North Korean leaders.

“North’s first nuclear test took place on October 10, 2006, during a three-day holiday weekend in the United States. The second was May 25, 2009, Memorial Day in the United States,” Lee said. “Kim Jong Il, father of the current Great Leader, ordered the explosion only an hour after sending a message of condolences to the family of former South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun (2003-2008), who died by suicide two days earlier while he was being investigated for corruption. Such an insult despite Roh providing Kim with $4.4 billion in cash, food, fertilizer, etc., the most by any South Korean leader.”

Lee pointed out that North Korean leaders have also used nuclear tests to “attack the Chinese,” noting their 2013 test that took place “in the midst of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, its biggest holiday, which was the first for Xi Jinping as supreme leader”.

Warheads are paraded during a military parade during celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party of North Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Warheads are paraded during a military parade during celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of North Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea.


“The fourth nuclear test was on January 6, 2016, four days after the hostage-taking of Otto Warmbier, an American college student from Ohio (and two days before Kim Jong Un’s birthday),” Lee said. “The fifth test was on September 9 later in the year, North’s Nation Foundation Day. The sixth took place on September 3, 2017, just before Xi Jinping gave a speech at a major multilateral forum in Xiamen, China. China”.

Speaking to South Korean media on Monday, Grossi noted the progress on Tunnel 3 and said he didn’t rule out the possibility that a test was imminent, although he said planning for such tests typically takes longer.

However, he expressed concern about the pace of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, noting that the successful test of the ICBM, Hwasong-17, may reach the United States.

Lee believes North Korea will plan the next test to achieve the maximum “psychological effect,” which the country will then try to use to win concessions from the international community.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)


“Pyongyang assumes that sticking it to its interlocutors, even by blatantly insulting them, has the psychological effect of making them more desperate and even more inclined to make concessions when it finally demands talks,” Lee said.


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