SEOUL--North Korea is sending mixed signals about a possible third nuclear test in another attempt to keep the United States and its allies off balance.
A North Korean website on Feb. 9 carried a commentary that said Washington "had jumped to conclusions" about the third nuclear test.
The sign that Pyongyang might delay the test could be a way of trying to persuade the United States to return to the bargaining table for direct talks with North Korea.
Some analysts in Japan and South Korea now believe that Pyongyang will not immediately conduct a nuclear test.
However, South Korean government officials were not letting down their guard because of North Korea's unpredictability.
Just last December, North Korea sent signals that it was disassembling part of a rocket, leading some analysts to conclude that Pyongyang was holding off on a missile launch. However, North Korea soon thereafter launched what it called a rocket to put a satellite into orbit. It was, in fact, a long-range ballistic missile.
The Feb. 9 commentary was posted on the website Uriminzokkiri, which roughly translates as "Our people, together."
"The United States and other adversarial forces have jumped to the conclusion that a third nuclear test will be conducted and have begun calling for not only strong sanctions, but also have touched upon the need for a first strike," it said.
On Jan. 26, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a statement that said the nation would implement an important measure, leading some to conclude that was a message for a nuclear test.
The Uriminzokkiri commentary said about the reaction to Kim's statement, "The abomination of the United States making a big scene without knowing anything about whether a nuclear test or something beyond that was involved is like the sudden change in tactics used by thieves."
Unlike statements issued by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, the Uriminzokkiri site does not often transmit important decisions made by the government, but it has in the past reported on subtle changes in policy.
The past two nuclear tests conducted by North Korea came after a resolution and a president's statement issued by the United Nations Security Council condemning the test launching of long-range ballistic missiles by Pyongyang.
The most important objective for North Korea is to improve relations with the United States to maintain its regime structure. North Korea apparently believes that the two past nuclear tests were instrumental in leading to dialogue with the United States.
At the same time, unlike past statements by the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued before the two nuclear tests, the statement issued on Jan. 23 used only indirect terminology, saying, "a retaliatory self-defense measure, including a nuclear deterrent" would be implemented.
According to sources knowledgeable about relations between the United States and South Korea, "Key Resolve," a joint military exercise involving U.S. and South Korean troops, is scheduled to begin March 11. North Korea has criticized the exercise as "war planning."
In the past, North Korea has been notified about the training exercises a month before they start.
Although South Korean officials are insisting that a similar notice be issued this time, U.S. officials are more cautious, apparently because they do not want to antagonize Pyongyang.
"While the United States is the only one capable of persuading North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test, we will never allow easy concessions to be made," said a South Korean government official.
South Korean officials are trying to gather intelligence because the possibility cannot be ruled out that informal contact is being made by the United States and North Korea.
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