Kim Jong-un has warned he will use nuclear weapons if provoked (Picture: AP)
North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test in five years is looming after diplomatic efforts fell to pieces, experts have warned.
The US is ‘preparing for all contingencies’, alongside South Korean and Japanese allies, as all eyes are on Kim Jong-un, who is expected to give the go-ahead for the test in the near future.
Efforts to prepare the country’s north-eastern testing ground have been detected by experts for months now.
In April, the supreme leader warned he would ‘take steps to strengthen and develop our nation’s nuclear capabilities at the fastest pace’ in a defiant speech.
If it was given the green light, the nuclear test would be the nation’s seventh since 2006, and the first since September 2017 – when it claimed to have tried out a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The US’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, has been in Seoul for a trilateral meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to discuss the growing threat posed by North Korea’s weapons programme.
In fresh comments this week, he said: ‘The US assesses that the DPRK is preparing at its Punggye-ri test site for what would be its seventh nuclear test.
‘This assessment is consistent with the DPRK’s own recent public statements.’
A test-fire of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), at an undisclosed location in North Korea on March 24, 2022 (Picture: AP)
Washington is prepared to make ‘both short and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as appropriate and responding to any DPRK provocation and as necessary to strengthen both defence and deterrence to protect our allies in the region’, he added.
Funakoshi Takehiro, Japan’s director-general for Asian and Oceanian Affairs, said the tests underscore the need for a more robust international response and lamented the UN Security Council’s inaction.
It comes after North Korea launched its 17th round of weapons testing in 2022 last month.
It appeared to be a pointed farewell to US President Joe Biden, who left Asia hours before.
The last moments of the American leader’s visit also saw Russian and Chinese fly nuclear-capable bombers in a joint military exercise near Japanese and South Korea air defence zones.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang were brought to a halt in 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling US-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s disarmament steps.
The most recent launches have been condemned as ‘grave provocation’ by South Korean officials.
But Russia and China last week vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on the country.
North Korea’s latest weapons test came hours after Joe Biden left Asia (Picture: Getty Images AsiaPac)
Nonetheless, the US and South Korea have offered to send Covid vaccines to North Korea as the nation battles a suspected huge surge in cases.
There has been no response from Mr Jong-un – despite the World Health Organisation saying it is assumed that the situation is ‘getting worse, not better’.
Mr Kim said: ‘We are concerned about how the outbreak might affect the North Korean people, the economy and the already dire food situation in the wake of these developments.’
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