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(LEAD) No signs of N. Korea's immediate nuke test: Seoul defense chief

All Headlines 15:03 November 20, 2014

(ATTN: RECASTS title, lead; ADDS defense chief's remarks in 4th para; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense chief said Thursday he does not expect North Korea to carry out a nuclear test "at an early date," with his ministry vowing to maintain a strong military posture against possible provocations by the North.

In protest against a fresh United Nations resolution condemning its grave human rights situation, Pyongyang threatened to intensify its nuclear weapons deterrence.

The website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said Wednesday that Pyongyang may be preparing to restart its reprocessing facility to extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel, citing satellite imagery.

"I don't see any chances of North Korea conducting a nuclear test soon, though it appears prepared to do so," defense minister Han Min-koo said during a parliamentary defense committee meeting.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff here declined to officially comment on its analysis of the North's recent nuclear activities, but an officer said on condition of anonymity that no specific moves have been detected at the North's Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site.

During a regular briefing, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters that the South Korean and the U.S. authorities have closely watched any movements by North Korea and operations of its nuclear facilities.

Stressing that the best way for the North to prevent war is to give up its nuclear ambitions, the spokesman said the South Korean military "has maintained full preparedness, and we will not tolerate any provocations or threats by North Korea."

"Threats from North Korea could mean a nuclear test or a ballistic missile launch that would threaten peace not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the world, which should be completely deterred," Kim said.

The bellicose regime carried out three underground nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and last year, and has threatened to perform "a new type" of nuclear test.
<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20141120004251315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='North Korea&apos;s Yongbyon nuclear facility. (Yonhap file photo)'/>

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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