North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who inherited supreme party and military leadership after his father Kim Jong-il's death in December, supported government statements that "powerful physical countermeasures would be taken to defend" the dignity and sovereignty of the totalitarian state.
The statements are in reaction to a United Nations Security Council Resolution tightening sanctions against Pyongyang and have heightened speculation that a nuclear detonation at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility is imminent.
The resolution was adopted unanimously — with the support of the North's traditional protector, China — as punishment for its Dec. 12 rocket launching. The Security Council determined that the launching was a cover for testing intercontinental ballistic missile technology and a violation of its earlier resolutions banning North Korea from such tests.
The North rejected the old resolutions, as well as the latest, insisting that launching rockets to put satellites into orbit was its sovereign right. Its successful rocket launching in December, coming after a failure last April, was the most visible achievement Mr. Kim's government could present for its people, who have suffered decades of poverty and isolation. In North Korean propaganda, defending its rocket program is likened to protecting national pride and independence — even if it has to pay economic prices.
Kim called a meeting of top security and foreign affairs officials and gave an instruction in his name. The meeting was reported in state news media, and through it Kim appeared to assert his leadership in what his country called an "all-out action" against the U.S.
"At the consultative meeting, Kim Jong-un expressed the firm resolution to take substantial and high-profile important state measures in view of the prevailing situation," said the North Korean's Central News Agency, or K.C.N.A. "He advanced specific tasks to the officials concerned," it added.
While it's not yet clear what those measures might be, one can assume it refers back to earlier statements where Kim's government threatened to launch more long-range rockets and conduct a third nuclear test to build an "ability" to target the United States.
The K.C.N.A. dispatch, which was distributed on Sunday, was dated Saturday, indicating that the meeting in Pyongyang took place then. That was the same day on which the North's main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said that the United Nations Security Council's resolution last Tuesday calling for tightening sanctions against the North left it with "no other option" but a nuclear test.
"A nuclear test is what the people demand," it said in a commentary.
The analysis of new satellite imagery from January 23, 2013 and previous images dating back a month reveal that the site appears to be at a continued state of readiness that would allow North Korea to move forward with a test in a few weeks or less once the leadership in Pyongyang gives the order. Snowfall and subsequent clearing operations as well as tracks in the snow reveal ongoing activity at buildings and on the roadways near the possible test tunnel.
U.S. government officials have cautioned that North Korea is aware that American reconnaissance satellites are monitoring its nuclear, missile and other military sites, and often tries to deceive them. Such deception succeeded in the case of the December rocket launch that the officials said caught the U.S. off guard after North Korea made it appear that it had delayed the launch.
Kim has worked to bolster his legitimacy by continuing a military-first policy while seeking to boost an impoverished economy since inheriting the leadership from his late father in December 2011. Six-nation talks on dismantling the North Korean nuclear program, involving the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea, haven't convened since December 2008.
North Korea has enough plutonium to produce four to eight basic nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea's uranium-enrichment and other atomic facilities in 2010.