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(LEAD) N. Korea ready to conduct nuke test if leadership makes decision: defense ministry

All Headlines 16:31 January 24, 2013

(ATTN: ADDS President Lee's remarks in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is ready to conduct another nuclear test if the country's leadership decides to take such a step, South Korea's defense ministry said Thursday.

"It is our understanding that if the leadership gives consent, the North can detonate a nuclear devise whenever it wants to," a ministry spokesman said.

He said due to this capability, the South Korean military is carefully monitoring activities taking place in the North, and preparing for any developments that can occur.

The official said South Korea and the United States are employing various intelligence assets, including satellites, to carefully monitor the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyeong Province. Unofficial sources hinted that there have been signs that the North is getting ready to test another nuclear weapon at the isolated site in the northeastern part of the country.

The communist country detonated two nuclear devices at Punggye-ri in 2006 and 2009 right after they test fired long-range rockets. The launching of rockets and nuclear tests caused the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to condemn the North and impose sanctions.

The ministry's announcement comes as North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission denounced the U.N. sanctions slapped on the country on Wednesday (Korea time), and claimed future rocket and nuclear tests may directly target the United States.

Despite warnings by the international community, Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket on Dec. 12 that the United States and its allies think was a covert test of banned missile technology.

"In the new phase of our century-long struggle against the United States, we do not hide the fact that various satellites, long-range missiles that we will continue to launch and high-level nuclear test we will conduct will target our sworn enemy, the United States," the commission said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The North also said that there will be no more talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, although it is willing to engage in dialogue that can ensure peaces and stability for the broader Northeast Asian region.

South Korea's outgoing President Lee Myung-bak said what concerns him the most in the course of handing power over to the next government of President-elect Park Geun-hye is the possibility of North Korean provocations.

"North Korea is not an entity that we can handle with normal predictions. It always and at any time does something that deviates from common sense," Lee was quoted by spokesman Park Jeong-ha as saying during a national defense meeting.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
(END)

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