WASHINGTON (The Blaze/AP) -- The United States says a rocket or nuclear test by North Korea would only isolate its communist government further.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday she was not in a position to confirm whether the North was preparing for its third nuclear test, in addition to a long-range rocket launch expected some time between April 12 and 16.
She urged China to use its influence with North Korea to dissuade it from going ahead with the launch.
Nuland said a launch would be "highly provocative" and a nuclear test "would be equally bad if not worse."
South Korean intelligence officials say recent satellite images show North Korea is digging a new underground tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a nuclear test. The excavation at North Korea's northeast Punggye-ri site, where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009, is in its final stages, according to a report by intelligence officials that was shared Monday with The Associated Press.
Watch this Reuters report:
"North Korea is covertly preparing for a third nuclear test, which would be another grave provocation," said the report, which cited U.S. commercial satellite photos taken April 1. "North Korea is digging up a new underground tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in addition to its existing two underground tunnels, and it has been confirmed that the excavation works are in the final stages."
Dirt believed to have been brought from other areas is piled at the tunnel entrance, the report said, something experts say is needed to fill up tunnels before a nuclear test. The dirt indicates a "high possibility" North Korea will stage a nuclear test, the report said, as plugging tunnels was the final step taken during its two previous underground nuclear tests.
SlashGear reports that North Korea has maintained the launch is in honor of Kim Il Sung's birth 100 years ago. It has said the rocket launch is for a satellite. SlashGear has more:
North Korean officials refuse to discuss the relative priorities of funding expensive rocket testing when civilians are going hungry, and state representatives were whisked away from CNN‘s questioning when challenged. That wasn’t before the launch site’s chief, Jang Myong Jin, said he was “very disturbed by these claims” that the rocket is, in fact, a missile.
Pressed, he suggested reporters present “look for yourself.” “Does it look like a missile to you? This is why we invited you here.”
Some Asian airlines have already decided that they would be re-routing some flights next week in light of N. Korea's rocket launch. Ships and some fishing boats are being warned away from northeastern waters to avoid the potential of rocket debris.