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(LEAD) N. Korea can practically miniaturize nukes: Seoul

All Headlines 17:17 December 23, 2014

(ATTN: RECASTS title, lead; ADD Seoul's assessment on N. Korean nuke activities in 2-8 paras)

SEOUL, Dec. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea believes that North Korea has practically acquired the technology to miniaturize nuclear warheads that could be mounted on its long-range ballistic missiles, military sources said Tuesday.

The defense ministry plans to include the assessment in its biennial white paper set to be released next week, believing that North Korea's nuclear weapons have emerged as a practical military threat following Pyongyang's last nuclear test in 2013, according to the sources.

"The 2014 white paper will include the description that North Korea is practically able to miniaturize nuclear warheads," a source said, requesting anonymity.

Although the North has yet to demonstrate the miniaturization capability, officials and experts from South Korea and the U.S. have said the communist country is believed to have the technology to build nuclear-tipped missiles.

In October, Defense Minister Han Min-koo told lawmakers that North Korea appears to have achieved "a significant level" of technology to build miniaturized nuclear weapons.

In the previous 2012 edition, the report did not carry any technological assessments of the North's nuclear technology. It simply said Pyongyang has honed its missile technology through several tests since the late 1990s, and is capable of targeting its Asian neighbors as well as the U.S. territory of Guam with its mid-range missiles.

The bellicose regime has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, including its most powerful one with a uranium-based device in February 2013. It has also threatened to carry out "a new form" of underground test.

"As Pyongyang's nuclear weapons have emerged as a major military threat to the regional and international security, the military put such an assessment in the paper," another source said.

South Korea has also decided to continue to define North Korea as "enemy" in the report, according to Seoul's defense ministry.

"North Korea has posed serious threats to our security by launching military provocations continuously ... As long as such threats exist, we cannot but define the North Korean regime and its military as our enemy," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a regular briefing.

The 2014 edition set to be available next week will use that exact term, he oted.

South Korea had dropped the definition in 2004 after 10 years of use, but revived the expression in its 2012 white paper after the North carried out a series of military provocations in 2010 including torpedoing the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, and shelling the western sea border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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