North Korea is ready to conduct an additional nuclear test at any time, South Korea's Defence Ministry said on Monday, three days after the reclusive North's fifth test drew widespread condemnation.
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- Pyongyang set off its most powerful nuclear blast to date on Friday, saying it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile and ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the United Nations have been powerless to contain.
NORTH KOREA RAMPING UP RAPIDLY
"Assessment by South Korean and U.S. intelligence is that the North is always ready for an additional nuclear test in the Punggye-ri area," the site of the North's five nuclear explosions, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a news briefing.
"North Korea has a tunnel where it can conduct an additional nuclear test," Moon said.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye said later that North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles posed an "imminent threat", as tensions rose on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the test last week.
"As North Korea has publicly said nuclear warheads have been standardized and customised to mount on ballistic missiles, we should keep in mind that North Korea's nuclear missiles are a realistic, imminent threat targeting us, not a simple threat for negotiations," Park said in a meeting with major political party leaders.
Pyongyang's assertions that it is able to miniaturise a nuclear warhead have never been independently verified.
South Korea is pushing for more sanctions against Pyongyang to close what it says were loopholes left in the last United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in March.
"We expect that China, as one of the Security Council member states, should take this issue seriously and play a very constructive role to come up with a very effective and strong sanctions resolution," a South Korean foreign ministry official said.
The Security Council denounced the latest test and said it would begin work immediately on a resolution. The United States, Britain and France - three of the five veto-wielding permanent members - pushed for the 15-member body to impose new sanctions.
Both China and Russia, the remaining veto powers, backed sanctions imposed in March following the North's January nuclear test, but their apparent ambivalence about fresh sanctions cast doubt on the Security Council's ability to quickly form a consensus.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said sanctions alone could not solve the North Korean nuclear issue. The crux of the issue lay with the United States, not China, she added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday a "creative" response was needed.
Contributed by Ju-min Park and Jack Kim - REUTERS