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No Clear Sign of North Korea's Nuclear Test: U.S. State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government indicated on May 3 that it has not detected any clear signs that North Korea's nuclear test is around the corner.

   "Nothing to point to, I mean, other than the rumors that we've heard in the press and elsewhere," Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department said at a press briefing.

   He was responding to media reports that Pyongyang seems to be all set for a third nuclear experiment. It conducted underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

   Toner stressed that North Korean leadership should make a choice between dialogue and isolation.

   "North Korea has a clear choice in front of it," he said. "And if it continues its bad behavior, it's just only going to further isolate itself."

   Citing unidentified sources, some media reported that the North may detonate a nuclear device as early as this week.

   Toner added he "can't speak to any intelligence" that the U.S. might have on the issue.

   He also refused to go into details on another sensitive topic _ South Korea's push to bolster its ballistic missile capabilities.

   The South's President Lee Myung-bak openly declared a need to develop longer-range ballistic missiles to counter the North's threats.

   Under a deal with the U.S., South Korea can't have ballistic missiles with a range longer than 300 kilometers.

   Seoul claims that it needs longer-range missiles to cover the whole North Korean region.

   But the U.S. is more concerned about a regional arms race, according to sources.

   "We are strongly in support of the defense of South Korea, and that goes without saying, that we seek to work productively and constructively with South Korea on meeting their security needs," Toner said in reiterating Washington's basic stance.

   "But I don't have a particular comment on that story," he added.

   He hinted that the U.S. will focus more on implementing U.N.-led sanctions on the North for its recent long-range rocket test, rather than seeking bilateral ones.

   "This is a heavily sanctioned country to begin with, so part of the calculus here is to not only seek new entities to sanction, but to also strengthen enforcement of existing sanctions," he said.

   Manwhile, five nuclear powers _ the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain _ delivered a unified message for North Korea to drop a plan, if any, for a nuclear test.

   North Korea should "refrain from further actions which may cause grave security concerns in the region, including any nuclear tests," they in a statement on the sidelines of a non-proliferation meeting in Vienna.


S. Korea Calls for Strong Implementation of N. Korea Sanctions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea urged the world on May 3 to "more effectively" implement U.N. sanctions against North Korea, after the U.N. Security Council sanctioned an additional three North Korean state firms as punishment for Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch in mid-April.

   The unsuccessful launch on April 13, which Pyongyang insisted was to put a satellite into orbit, breached U.N. resolutions banning the North from conducting any launch using ballistic missile technology. The North's rocket broke apart shortly after blast-off.

   South Korea, the United States, Japan and the European Union proposed a list of around 40 North Korean entities and companies to be added to U.N. sanctions against the North, diplomatic sources in Seoul said.

   China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council and the North's major ally, only approved the addition of three firms -- Green Pine Conglomerate, Amrog River Development Banking Corp. and Korea Hungjin Trading Company.

   "Although the number of North Korean firms added to the U.N. sanctions was (only) three, they are core organizations continuously leading transactions in connections with weapons of mass destruction," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Han Hye-jin said.

   "Rather than the number, our main concern is how to proceed with an implementation of the additional sanctions," Han said. "We expect the sanctions against North Korea to be more effectively implemented with the new sanctions."

   North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions for previous nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009.

   Speculation has grown North Korea may be readying for a third nuclear test following the failed launch. The North's previous unsuccessful missile launches were followed by nuclear tests.

   North Korea has also threatened to turn the South Korean government in Seoul to "ashes in three or four minutes" using "unprecedented peculiar means."

   On Wednesday, Seoul's Transport Ministry said jamming signals thought to be from North Korea affected the GPS navigation systems of about 250 commercial flights in and out of international airports at Incheon and Gimpo, west of Seoul. The flights were in no danger, but forced to use an alternate navigation system, ministry officials said.

   Ministry spokeswoman Han said the government is reviewing "various options" to respond to the North's apparent jamming attack, but declined to elaborate further.


Kim Jong-un Plans to Visit Beijing Later This Year: Report

TOKYO (Yonhap) -- North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, is seeking to visit Beijing later this year amid tightening international sanctions on Pyongyang due to its recent failed rocket launch, a local report said on May 6.

   North Korea is also believed to be preparing to conduct another nuclear test after ones in 2006 and 2009, which brought strong sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.

   Kim Yong-il, who is in charge of international relations at the North's ruling Workers' Party, visited Beijing in late April to convey to Chinese leader Hu Jintao Kim Jong-un's plan to visit the Chinese capital, Japan's Nihon Keizai newspaper reported.

   Hu welcomed the proposed visit to Beijing by Kim Jong-un, who took over after the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il in December, according to the daily.

   Kim Jong-un apparently wanted to begin diplomacy with China, the North's sole ally which serves as the biggest benefactor for the impoverished North, under the assumption that the young leader in his late 20s has already consolidated power to fill the vacuum created by his father's death, the report said.

   Hu, for his part, wanted to convey his wish that North Korea will refrain from going ahead with another nuclear test and instead focus on economic reform to help alleviate poverty, the report said.


U.N. Estimates N.K. to Secure 2 Million Tons of Rice This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.N. food agency has estimated that North Korea will secure 2 million tons of rice in 2012, up about 18 percent from last year, a news report said on May 9.

   The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that the North produced 1.6 million tons of rice last fall and is expected to import 300,000 tons of rice and receive 100,000 tons of outside assistance, Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported, citing the FAO's food outlook.

   The Rome-based U.N. agency also estimated that North Korea's per capita rice consumption is expected to increase to 72.3 kilograms between last year's fall and summer of this year, up from 64 kilograms in the same period last year, the RFA said.

   In February, the FAO said more than 3 million vulnerable people are estimated to face a food deficit as chronic food insecurity continues throughout North Korea.

   The North has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.


S. Korea Prepared for 'Further Provocation' from N. Korea: FM

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said on May 9 South Korea is fully prepared to cope with any "further provocation" from North Korea amid concerns the socialist regime may soon conduct a new nuclear test.

   The security situation on the Korean Peninsula has grown increasingly tense after North Korea's unsuccessful launch of a long-range rocket last month, drawing new sanctions from the U.N. Security Council. There is growing concern that the North could soon engage in new provocative acts, including a nuclear test or border violence.

   "Our government is getting everything in a state of readiness to cope with any further provocation from North Korea," Kim told a breakfast meeting hosted by the Korea Institute for Maritime Security, a private think tank, without hinting at any specific actions being planned by the North.

   In recent weeks, North Korea's verbal threats against South Korea have become more specific and bellicose, warning that its military will turn the South Korean government and other targets into "ashes in three or four minutes."

   Although the North's threats are not uncommon, such harsher remarks prompted some analysts to speculate that the North's new leader Kim Jong-un might launch another military attack against the South to establish more authority for his regime at home following the failed rocket launch.

   "Compared with the past, the level of North Korea's verbal threats is very high and our government is becoming increasingly nervous," Kim said.

   Inter-Korean tensions remain high after 50 South Korean troops and civilians were killed in two military attacks by North Korea in 2010. Seoul's military has vowed a tougher response if Pyongyang attacks again.

   Despite a continuing cycle of provocations by North Korea, Kim said his government is working closely with the U.S., China, Japan and Russia to persuade the North to change its ways.

   "We are intensifying strategic cooperation with the U.S., China, Japan and Russia to let North Korea change its attitude," the minister said.

   North Korea has proven its ability to make fissile bombs by carrying out two nuclear tests, both based on plutonium, in 2006 and 2009.