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Minister sees 'high probability' of a N. Korea nuclear test

All Headlines 16:53 December 14, 2012

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) -- Following the successful launch of a long-range rocket this week, North Korea will likely conduct a nuclear test, South Korea's point man on the North warned Friday.

"There is a high probability for a nuclear test following the launch of the long-range missile and, from the analysis of intelligence, significant progress has been made to carry out a nuclear test," Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik told lawmakers.

Even before the Wednesday rocket launch, South Korean officials said North Korea has almost completed preparations for a third nuclear test. Its two previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 followed long-range rocket launches.

"North Korea has a track record of conducting nuclear tests after launching long-range missiles and the aim of the launch was to develop a delivery system that could carry nuclear warheads," Yu said at a parliamentary session.

The North's successful rocket launch surprised the world with the country's apparent progress toward building intercontinental nuclear missile capability. The move also dashed hopes that young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is open to engagement with the outside world. However, the communist country claims that the launch was for peaceful purposes and to put a scientific satellite into space.

At the parliamentary session, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told lawmakers that South Korea is trying to persuade China to support a tougher U.N. response against North Korea for its defiant launch, despite Beijing's resistance.

Shortly after the North's largely successful launch that violated U.N. resolutions banning the regime from testing ballistic missile technology, South Korea and the U.S. started diplomatic efforts at the U.N. Security Council to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang.

Whether China, a key ally of Pyongyang and a veto-wielding council member, will agree to new sanctions remains unclear. China's foreign ministry said Thursday that any U.N. response to North Korea's rocket launch should be "prudent."

Asked by a lawmaker whether China will apply pressure on North Korea as a consequence of the launch, Kim replied, "China's stance is not so proactive, but other nations, except for China, have the same stance and we continue to persuade China."

"I expect that it would be difficult for China to ignore the thinking of the international community," Kim said.

Regardless of the North Korean satellite's success or failure, Kim said the Wednesday launch demonstrated a new level of technical advance in the North's ballistic missile technology.

"It is a fact that North Korea improved its missile capability, but it has not completed yet and more tests are needed. So, relevant measures should be taken to curb it," Kim said.

Kim also said that South Korea, the U.S. and other nations will focus on implementing tougher measures to add more influential North Korean citizens and entities to the list of sanctions to prevent further advancement of the North's nuclear and missile technologies.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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