Sejong Institute fellow Cheong Seong-chang said the advanced test may be Pyongyang’s last before putting the finishing touches on its nuclear program.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency quoted Cheong at a forum in Seoul, saying, "The possibility of North Korea pushing ahead with a nuclear test before the (85th) anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army on April 25 cannot be ruled out."
He added, "It is assumed that North Korea would finish sophisticating its nuclear capabilities through the last nuclear test ahead of the launch of a new administration in the South before seeking to mend the fence with the new administration using a nuclear test freeze as a negotiating card.”
The feeling amongst officials in Seoul is that Pyongyang, which has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, could conduct another at almost any time, depending on the whims of its Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.
South Korea will hold an early presidential election on May 9 to choose who will succeed Park Geun-hye, who was impeached amid a corruption scandal and massive protests calling for her removal.
The daughter of assassinated former South Korean President Park Chung-hee and a darling of older, conservative South Koreans, Park remains in a detention center as a probe into a multimillion-dollar bribe from Samsung, South Korea’s largest company, continues. Park’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil is implicated as well.
According to Cheong, Pyongyang may conduct a nuclear test after first launching a satellite rocket, in anticipation of backlash against the satellite.
This analysis comes not only as South Korea carries out joint military drills with the US, seriously raising the ire of the North, but also as Washington begins deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which was expressly put in place as a bulwark against Pyongyang.
Not long before US warships began making their way to the Korean peninsula, the US National Security Council advised President Donald Trump that his options for settling issues with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) include placing nuclear weapons in the South and even assassinating Kim Jong-un.
Trump has accused the isolated country of behaving "very, very badly," as their ballistic missile launches continue.