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North Korea's Kim Jong Un hints at hydrogen bomb capability

North Korea is a "powerful nuclear weapons state" ready to detonate hydrogen bombs to protect its sovereignty, Kim Jong Un has said. Sources in the South Korean intelligence claim the statement was mere "rhetoric."

The leader of the isolated Asian country, Kim Jong Un, praised North Korean nuclear arsenal while touring a weapons factory on Thursday.

Kim's grandfather Kim Il Sung turned North Korea into a "powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation reliably," Kim Jong Un said, according to the state KCNA agency.

North Korea has tested

three nuclear devices

between 2006 and 2013, causing international alarm. All of the weapons were atomic bombs, which can be made of plutonium and uranium.

An H-bomb, however, uses hydrogen isotopes to release a far more powerful nuclear reaction.

Hydrogen bomb 'unlikely'

In the past, the North Korean officials have made many unverified claims about their nuclear weapons. They have also threatened to target the US mainland and destroy South Korea in a "sea of flames."

Despite the Pyongyang boasts, international experts believe that the isolated country is not yet capable of putting a nuclear warhead on a missile.

On Thursday, a South Korean intelligence official said Kim's claim was nothing more than "rhetoric" for domestic consumption.

"We don't have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb... and we do not believe that North Korea has the technology to produce an H-bomb," the official told the Yonhap news agency.

"I think it's unlikely that they have an H-bomb at the moment, but I don't expect them to keep testing basic devices indefinitely, either," said American expert Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Security Council to discuss abuse

North Korean biggest ally, China, noted Kim's claims but offered no opinion on their interpretation.

The situation on the Korean peninsula "is still complex and fragile", foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.

"We hope that all sides can do more to maintain peace and stability there," Hua added.

The United Nations Security Council is set to

discuss accusations of human rights abuse

in North Korea later on Thursday.

dj/jil (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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