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North Korea could conduct nuclear test

April 13, 2017

A North Korea monitor has reported that Pyongyang is in the final stages of its next nuclear test. It comes as the country prepares for the 'Day of the Sun,' which in the past has coincided with weapons tests.

Nordkorea Machthaber Kim Jong Un
Image: Getty Images/AFP

The world will hold its breath Saturday as North Korea celebrates the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-Sung.

The US-based 38 North monitoring group reported late on Wednesday that satellite images suggested Pyongyang is prepared to conduct its next nuclear test, describing the test site as "primed and ready."

"Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea's Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from April 12 shows continued activity around the North Portal, new activity in the Main Administrative Area, and a few personnel around the site's Command Center," the group said.

Such a test would coincide with the country's biggest national celebrations, known as "Day of the Sun," on Saturday. Pyongyang has often used the date to mark a show of strength. In 2012, North Korea tried but failed to launch a long-range missile carrying a satellite, while last year it tested a barrage of newly developed intermediate-range missiles.

The North has invited some 200 foreign journalists to Pyongyang ahead of the celebrations. So far, however, the only reports are of relatively low key events.

China calls on North Korea to denuclearize

On Thursday, China, North Korea's sole major ally and benefactor, urged the reclusive state to halt its nuclear program exchange for protection and security.

An editorial in the influential state-backed Global Times newspaper said that denuclearization was the best option for North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un.

Read more: Opinion: US, North Korea, China - diplomacy and saber rattling

"As soon as North Korea complies with China's declared advice and suspends nuclear activities ... China will actively work to protect the security of a denuclearized North Korean nation and regime," the Global Times reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with his US counterpart Donald Trump by telephone on Wednesday, just days after the pair met in the United States, underscoring the level of urgency raised by the North's suspected upcoming weapons test.

Tensions between the US and North Korea have surged in recent days. On Saturday the US diverted its Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to the West Pacific, just of the Korean peninsula in a move the White House said had put the North "clearly on notice."

That prompted the North to declare that it was "ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the US and China to team to find a peaceful resolution to North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Japan, South Korea remain weary

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned on Thursday that North Korea could have the capacity to launch missiles equipped with Sarin nerve gas.

Abe told a parliamentary session: "There is a possibility that North Korea already has a capability to deliver missiles with sarin as warheads."

In February, North Korea fired test missiles into the Sea of Japan while Abe was in the US meeting with Trump.

Abe's speech coincided with South Korea saying it believed it would be consulted by the US ahead of any pre-emptive strike against the North. At a parliamentary hearing in Seoul Thursday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that "under the South Korea-US alliance, any important measure on the North is taken under consultation with the South Korea government and it will continue in the future."

Read more: Can Park's potential leftist successor mend ties with North Korea?

Seoul officials added that they had received no evidence indicating of a rising Pyongyang nuclear threat, but said the North had maintained a state of readiness to conduct such a test at any time.

dm/rt (AP, Reuters)