SEOUL • North Korea is ready to conduct an additional nuclear test at any time, South Korea's Defence Ministry said yesterday, three days after the reclusive North's fifth test drew widespread condemnation.
Pyongyang set off its most powerful nuclear blast to date last Friday, saying it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile and ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the United Nations have been powerless to contain.
"Assessment by South Korean and US intelligence is that the North is always ready for an additional nuclear test in the Punggye-ri area", the site of North Korea's five nuclear explosions, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun told a news briefing.
"North Korea has a tunnel where it can conduct an additional nuclear test," Mr Moon said.
South Korea is pushing for more sanctions against Pyongyang to close what it says are loopholes left in the last United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in March.
Both China and Russia backed the sanctions imposed in March following the North's January nuclear test, but their apparent ambivalence about fresh sanctions cast doubt on the Security Council's ability to quickly form a consensus.
"We expect that China, as one of the Security Council member states, should take this issue seriously and play a very constructive role to come up with a very effective and strong sanctions resolution," a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.
The Security Council denounced the latest test last Friday, and said it would begin work immediately on a resolution. The United States, Britain and France - three of the five veto-wielding permanent members - pushed for the 15-member body to impose new sanctions.
Russia and China are the remaining veto powers on the Security Council. Speaking to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China "strongly urged North Korea and other relevant parties to remain calm and exercise restraint, and not take any new steps to intensify tensions", China's Foreign Ministry said.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye yesterday met leaders of major political parties. Ms Park and the three party leaders denounced North Korea's latest nuclear test, but were divided on how to deal with the threat.
"North Korea has declared that it has miniaturised its nuclear warhead, so its nuclear-tipped missile is no longer a mere threat or negotiating tool but an actual urgent threat facing us," Ms Park said in her opening speech.
She called on political parties to support stronger defence measures, while stressing the importance of the US nuclear umbrella, as well as the advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system due to be deployed next year.
The leaders of the opposition Minjoo Party and People's Party acknowledged the need for sanctions against Pyongyang, but called on Ms Park to resume dialogue with North Korea.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that bad weather had delayed the flight of an advanced US B-1B bomber to the Korean peninsula, seen as a show of strength and solidarity with ally Seoul, scheduled for yesterday.
The flight from the US base in Guam will now take place today, a US Forces In Korea official said, without identifying the type of aircraft involved.
REUTERS, THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK , XINHUA