S. Korean official says he misspoke about nuke test

SEOUL (AP) - A top South Korean official said on Monday that he misspoke earlier in the day when he told lawmakers there is an "indication" that North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test.

But that doesn't change what Seoul has been saying for months: that Pyongyang has already prepared a tunnel for a nuclear blast and can use it whenever it wants.

When a lawmaker asked whether there was an indication of increased personnel and vehicles at the North's nuclear test site, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl Jae said "there is such an indication". He said he couldn't say more because it involved confidential intelligence.

The comments in a parliamentary session were recorded on video, but Mr Ryoo later told lawmakers he couldn't remember making them and didn't mean to say them. He said he was "startled" by reports carrying his earlier comments.

A Unification Ministry official said that Mr Ryoo had intended to say that North Korea has long been ready to conduct a nuclear test. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

After Mr Ryoo's initial comments, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said there are vehicle and personnel activities at the northeastern test site but they are seen as "usual" activities, not an "indication for a nuclear test".

Mr Kim said North Korea can conduct a nuclear test anytime if decides to do so.

The confusion over a possible nuclear test came a day after another top South Korean official said a North Korean missile test may be in the works around Wednesday.

Either a nuclear test or a missile test would escalate tensions that have been rising for weeks on the Korean Peninsula, and would likely invite a new round of UN Security Council sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and rocket activity.

The US and South Korea have been raising their defense posture, and foreign diplomats were considering a warning from Pyongyang that their safety in North Korea could not be guaranteed beginning on Wednesday.