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N. Korea 'technically ready' for 4th nuclear test: official

2014/04/23 16:41

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, April 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has made all necessary preparations to conduct its fourth nuclear test, only leaving the decision to use its "open ticket," a senior South Korean military official said Wednesday.

Seoul and Washington have been preparing for a possible nuclear test by Pyongyang as the allies have recently detected increased activities at the North's Punggye-ri site in the northeastern tip of the peninsula.

The latest move fueled media speculation that the communist sate may stage the test ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's planned visit to South Korea later this week, following his stop in Japan, to draw international attention.

"North Korea is technically ready for a nuclear test at any time, and has made all preparations as a matter of fact," a senior defense ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "The current situation is like having an open plane ticket. (The North) is ready to get on the plane at any time."

   Addressing conflicting analysis by a U.S. institute that questioned the imminence of a test, the official said South Korean and U.S. officials are on the same page regarding the latest developments taking place at the Punggye-ri site.

On Tuesday, 38 North, a website run the U.S.-Korea institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, wrote that recent satellite imagery indicates that a North Korean nuclear test is not imminent.

"That may be possible but appears unlikely based on the limited commercial satellite imagery available and observations of past North Korean nuclear tests," the report wrote. "Recent operations at Punggye-ri have not reached the high level of intensity -- in terms of vehicle, personnel and equipment movement -- that occurred in the weeks prior to past detonations."

   Concerns over a fourth nuclear test by North Korea have risen after it threatened to conduct a "new form of nuclear test" to bolster its nuclear deterrence.

Seoul officials have said the North has prepared one of the tunnels at the Punggye-ri site for another test since last year, though the timing depends on political considerations by leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea is believed to have used plutonium in its first two tests in 2006 and 2009. After the North's last underground test in February 2013, analysts failed to determine whether the device used highly-enriched uranium or plutonium.

Experts said Pyongyang has gradually made progresses in making a powerful, smaller warhead, but has yet to master the technology to make a small warhead that fits a long-range missile.

ejkim@yna.co.kr

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