WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2007 — -- North Korea appears to have made preparations for another nuclear test, according to U.S. defense officials.
"We think they've put everything in place to conduct a test without any notice or warning," a senior U.S. defense official told ABC News.
The official cautions that the intelligence is inconclusive as to whether North Korea will actually go ahead with another test but said the preparations are similar to the steps taken by Pyongyang before it shocked the world by conducting its first nuclear test last Oct. 9.
Two other senior defense officials confirmed that recent intelligence suggested that the North Koreans appear to be ready to test a nuclear weapon again, but the intelligence community divides over whether another test is likely.
"That would surprise me," a senior intelligence official said when asked if North Korea is likely to soon conduct another test.
Another official had a different view, predicting North Korea would conduct a test sometime over the next two or three months.
In the weeks before the Oct. 9 test, U.S. spy satellites witnessed the unloading of large cables at a suspected test site in P'onggye, in northeastern North Korea. The more recent activity has been observed in the same area as the Oct. 9 test.
In October, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that imposed harsh sanctions against North Korea just six days after Kim Jong Il's regime declared that it conducted an underground nuclear test. The sanctions were designed to coerce North Korea into giving up its nuclear program.
Resolution 1718 specifically called for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons completely and irreversibly, as well as to put an end to its biological and chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and ballistic missile programs.
The United States and Japan had pushed for stronger sanctions but eventually watered down the resolution to appease China and Russia, which feared that tougher sanctions might only make the situation worse.
The U.N. sanctions further mandated an embargo on major military hardware such as tanks, warships, combat aircraft and missiles to North Korea. To appease the Russian and Chinese delegations, however, the United States dropped its opposition to an all-out ban on conventional weapons.
The resolution also ruled out the possibility of military intervention -- a point critical to Russia and China, whose opposition to the initial drafts delayed the vote.
China, in particular, objected to a provision that would have allowed for the search of all cargo ships headed out of North Korea. The Chinese delegation maintained that intrusive searches could provoke further conflict in the region.
In response to these sanctions, North Korean Premier Yon Hyong Muk told the Security Council that the country needed nuclear weapons to protect itself from the danger of war with the United States, and that the Bush administration has responded to North Korea's "patient and sincere" efforts with sanctions and blockades. He said North Korea saw continued pressure from the United States as a declaration of war.
North Korean Gen. Ri Chan Bok told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer that "the U.S. wants us to kneel down before them. We cannot agree with them. If this tension continues war cannot be avoided."
In response, White House press secretary Tony Snow made it clear that it is not uncommon for the North Koreans to use strong rhetoric.
"On the other hand, let me make clear to the people of North Korea and the entire world, not only do we not want North Korea to 'kneel down,' what we're trying to do is offer them a better deal -- better economy, more security, better relations with their neighbors, integration into the global community as opposed to isolation," Snow said.