North Korea is ready to conduct an additional nuclear test at any time, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said yesterday, three days after the reclusive North’s fifth test drew widespread condemnation.
Pyongyang set off its most powerful nuclear blast to date on Friday last week, saying it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, and ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the UN have been powerless to contain.
“Assessment by South Korean and US intelligence is that the North is always ready for an additional nuclear test in the Punggye-ri area,” the site of the North’s five nuclear explosions, South Korean Ministry of National Defense spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a news conference. “North Korea has a tunnel where it can conduct an additional nuclear test.”
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said later that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles posed an “imminent threat,” as tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the test.
“As North Korea has publicly said nuclear warheads have been standardized and customized to mount on ballistic missiles, we should keep in mind that North Korea’s nuclear missiles are a realistic, imminent threat targeting us, not a simple threat for negotiations,” Park said in a meeting with major political party leaders.
Pyongyang’s assertions that it is able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead have never been independently verified.
South Korea is pushing for more sanctions against Pyongyang to close what it says are loopholes in the last UN Security Council resolution adopted in March.
“We expect that China, as one of the Security Council member states, should take this issue seriously, and play a very constructive role to come up with a very effective and strong sanctions resolution,” a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said.
The UN Security Council denounced the latest test and said it would begin work immediately on a resolution. The US, Britain and France — three of the five veto-wielding permanent members — have pushed for the 15-member body to impose new sanctions.
Both China and Russia, the remaining veto powers, backed sanctions imposed in March following the North’s January nuclear test, but their apparent ambivalence about fresh sanctions casts doubt on the Security Council’s ability to quickly form a consensus.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said sanctions alone could not solve the North Korean nuclear issue. The crux of the issue lay with the US, not China, she added.
A US special envoy for North Korea, Kim Sung, was due to travel to Seoul yesterday. Kim met Japanese officials on Sunday and said that the US could launch unilateral sanctions against North Korea, echoing comments by US President Barack Obama in the wake of the test.
Yonhap news agency reported that bad weather had delayed the flight of an advanced US B-1B bomber to the Korean Peninsula, a show of strength and solidarity with ally Seoul, scheduled for yesterday.
The flight from the US military base on Guam would now take place today, a US Forces in Korea official said, declining to identify the type of aircraft involved.
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