North Korea ‘has completed preparations for new nuclear test’

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North Korea has completed preparations for its seventh nuclear test and only requires a “political decision” to conduct the launch, South Korea’s foreign minister said.

Speaking at a press conference alongside US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Monday, Park Jin warned North Korea against opting for a “dangerous course of action” that would shun diplomacy and dialogue.

“I think that North Korea has now finished the preparation for another nuclear test, and I think only political decision has to be made,” Mr Park said.

“If North Korea ventures into another nuclear test, then I think that it will only strengthen our deterrence and also international sanctions. It will only isolate North Korea from the international community.”

Mr Park made the remarks during his first visit to Washington after being appointed by new president Yoon Seok-youl and after a summit last month between the South Korean leader and US president Joe Biden in Seoul.

The top two diplomats announced the reactivation of the high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group – a mechanism for a joint effort to counter North Korea’s provocations.

“We also discussed concrete ways to close the loopholes in the implementation of existing sanctions as well as ways to further strengthen the sanctions regime,” he said while stressing the need for dialogue.

In another example of growing urgency over a looming nuclear test by Pyongyang, a US special representative to North Korea said the country can conduct a seventh nuclear test “at any time”.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests – all at the key Punggye-ri site – in October 2006, May 2009, February 2013, January 2016, September 2016 and September 2017.

A seventh potential nuclear test would thus come after a five-year hiatus.

Mr Blinken said the US is “extremely vigilant” about the preparations for the test and they will be able to respond quickly should North Korea proceed with such a test.

“A nuclear test would be dangerous. It would be deeply destabilising to the region. It would blatantly violate international law set out in multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he said.

He said the US was preparing for all contingencies in “very close coordination” with South Korea and Japan.

In the latest addition to North Korea’s record-setting spate of weapon tests, Seoul said Pyongyang test fired what appeared to be artillery shells toward the sea.

While artillery tests draw less international attention than missile tests, forward-deployed long-range artillery guns are considered a serious security threat to South Korea’s populous metropolitan region of Seoul – just 40-50km away from the North Korean border.

On Monday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised the issue of pushing more sanctions against the North even as Beijing, a Pyongyang ally, remains defiant and continues to support Kim Jong-un.

A senior US administration official told reporters that Mr Sullivan held a meeting with Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Luxembourg on Monday and raised concerns about Beijing’s veto against Washington’s bid to impose tough sanctions on North Korea at the UN Security Council.

“Each side laid out their positions and the way we see the situation, and certainly Jake made very clear that we believe this is an area where the United States and China should be able to work together,” the official said.

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