Thae Yong-ho, formerly the deputy ambassador at North Korean's embassy in London, told a South Korean Parliamentary intelligence committee meeting December 23 that Pyongyang has sent documents to its overseas missions reporting that the country wants to conduct its sixth and seventh nuclear tests next year, KBS reports.
"In particular, it calls for preparations, as North Korea would seek to conduct a nuclear test around the presidential election," Thae said, according to lawmakers, the Korea Times reported.
Thae defected to South Korea in July, the most senior North Korean diplomat ever to do so. This was his first public appearance.
North Korean leader Kim Jon-un wants to be recognized as a nuclear state, Thae said, and then resolve its tangle of international tensions through dialogue. He's aiming for this recognition by July 2017, when its next Workers' Party Congress will be held, according to KBS.
The timing coincides nicely with the early days of a new presidential administration in the US and with likely South Korean presidential elections. South Korea is likely to hold a presidential election sooner than scheduled, as South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached earlier this month. Her term is scheduled to end in February 2018. South Korea's Constitutional Court has six months to decide whether to unseat her or reinstate her, Korea Times reports.
North Korea is hoping for a change, Thae said. "Pyongyang hopes that doubts about the effectiveness of sanctions against North Korea gain traction in a short period of time. It wants South Korea to seek a new inter-Korean policy," he said, Korea Times reports, citing a South Korean member of Parliament.
North Korea conduced its fifth nuclear test in September. The international talks on ending its nuclear program — involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the US, have been on hold since 2008.