North Korea ‘appears ready’ for seventh major nuclear test, South Korea says

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North Korea may be a step closer to carrying out its seventh nuclear test, South Korea’s presidential office has said amid heightened tensions surrounding Pyongyang’s recent activities.

Before a nuclear test, the North could test launch ballistic missiles, an unnamed official of the South Korean president’s office told the Yonhap news agency on Friday.

Similar warnings have also come from the US in the last few days, stating that Kim Jong Un’s regime could be gearing up for a nuclear test as early as this month.

It will also come amid stringent sanctions imposed on the country by the US that have so far failed to curtail Mr Kim’s agenda to bolster his country’s nuclear arsenal.

“The United States assesses that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to test there as early as this month,” state department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said last week, referring to the country with its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The unnamed official also told Yonhap that while a nuclear test in North Korea would have a short-term impact on South Korea’s economy, the country plans to draw up “very detailed action plans” about North Korea and other regional and global issues ahead of an upcoming summit between new president Yoon Suk-yeol and US president Joe Biden.

Back-to-back missile launches by North Korea this year are seen as an attempt to put pressure on its rivals to return to negotiations over lifting international sanctions.

There have been 16 missile launches by North Korea this year, with the latest reported as soon as on Thursday when it fired three short-range ballistic missiles from capital Pyongyang’s Sunan area on the eastern coast.

This was the second launch this month, that came despite a Covid-19 outbreak in the country as it reported its first officially confirmed case on Thursday.

Thousands of people have shown fever-like symptoms, according to state media, offering hints at the potentially dire spread of the disease in the country that had earlier declared there was not a single Covid case since the start of the pandemic.

Experts, however, said this may not mean Mr Kim’s regime will adopt a conciliatory line toward Washington and Seoul and accept foreign assistance even though people’s immediate concern would be avoiding the disease.

“But the Kim regime’s domestic audience may be less interested in nuclear or missile tests when the urgent threat involves coronavirus rather than a foreign military,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.

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