Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was in Seoul to participate in a conference at the Asan Institute, sees the launch as a prelude to North Korea’s third underground nuclear test.
North Korea tested nuclear devices with plutonium at their core in 2006 and 2009, but has yet to test a device made from highly enriched uranium.
“An HEU explosion,” Paal says, “will give them leverage against South Korea.”
Publicly, North Korea is priding itself on a test that honors the late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il before the first anniversary of his death next Monday. The capital, Pyongyang, burst into celebration after the launch, which the North says proves its claims that all its launches were for scientific purposes.