White House eyes North Korea during Asia trip

The White House vowed Tuesday it would be "very closely" monitoring North Korean activity at the country's main nuclear test site as President Obama embarks on a 10-day visit to Asia.

"North Korea has a history of taking provocative actions, and we are always mindful of the possibility that such an action could be taken," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Depending on what it is and what they do, if they do anything, it would most likely be in violation of numerous commitments that the DPRK is bound by. But of course, that is something that they have, unfortunately, done many times."

Earlier Tuesday, the South Korean Defense Ministry said it had increased its military preparedness after observing signs Pyongyang could be readying a nuclear test.

"We confirm that we have spotted several activities related to the nuclear test in Punggye-ri in North Korea," Seoul said in a statement, according to CNN.

"A lot of activity is currently being seen, so our forces are keeping in mind the possibility that North Korea may suddenly conduct a nuclear test in a short period of time, or as in previous cases, deceive us with what appears to be a nuclear test," Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, told Korean news agency Yonhap.

President Obama is expected to land in Tokyo on Friday, and will also spend time in Seoul, South Korea — two avowed enemies of the regime in North Korea.

The White House wouldn't say whether the president's agenda would be adjusted because of the possible nuclear test.

"We're monitoring events closely and mindful of Pyongyang's propensity to take provocative actions, but I'm not going to speculate about that," Carney said.

Last month, North Korea test-fired a pair of mid-range ballistic missiles toward Japan after Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Europe. At that meeting, the trio condemned North Korea's weapons programs, and Obama declared the U.S. commitment to the security of both allies was "unwavering."

On Tuesday, Carney said there was "a kind of cyclical nature to the provocative actions that North Korea tends to take."

The White House also said human rights abuses in North Korea would be on the agenda when Obama met with Park in Seoul.

"It's one of the most oppressive nations in the region and on the planet," Carney said. "It's also one of the most closed societies and opaque societies."