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N.K. leader orders more nuke tests

In defiance of international resolutions, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has instructed his aides to conduct additional rounds of atomic tests to beef up the country’s nuclear capabilities, state media said Friday, prompting Seoul’s stringent censures.

Apparently overseeing a ballistic missile launch Thursday, Kim stressed the need to continue “nuclear explosion experiments necessary to estimate the destructive power of newly built bombs and to increase nuclear strike capabilities,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

“We should pursue diversifying the means to carry nuclear warheads so as to be ready to launch a nuclear strike on the enemies from anywhere on the ground, in the air, at sea and underwater,” he was quoted as saying by the agency. 
 
In this image carried Friday by the Rodong Shinmun, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) observes the test launch of short-range missiles on Thursday. (Yonhap)
In this image carried Friday by the Rodong Shinmun, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) observes the test launch of short-range missiles on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Seoul’s Unification Ministry castigated the young ruler’s comments as a “rash act out of ignorance of the world.”

“It’s an example that attests to why the international community needs to take and is taking strong and comprehensive sanctions against the North,” ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said at a news briefing, referring to the U.N. Security Council’s adoption of a fresh resolution last week.

“Our government is girded up to respond immediately to any provocations.”

Kim’s remarks appear to be chiefly aimed at ratcheting tension in response to the ongoing South Korea-U.S. annual joint military drills, while consolidating his people in the wake of the UNSC sanctions, analysts say.

In another armed protest, the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea early Thursday. Seoul countered with criticism over a breach of the resolutions and said it will take the case to the U.N.

Meanwhile, heated debate continued over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities, especially concerning its fourth underground blast in January during which it claims to have used a hydrogen bomb.

The official media Wednesday released an image of Kim inspecting what it claimed to be a miniaturized fission device displayed alongside the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, which the U.S. Defense Department believes is already being deployed and capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Though Seoul and Washington have been largely downplaying the assertions as bluffs, they acknowledge that the communist state is working on miniaturizing warheads and crafting an H-bomb.

The allies, however, have exposed slight differences in their detailed assessments of how far the regime has come, especially in terms of miniaturization and delivery development.

Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, reaffirmed during a hearing in Washington on Thursday that Pyongyang has “the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM,” with a “range all of the states of the U.S. and Canada.”

His view was in line with Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, who provided similar observations last year.

In contrast, Seoul’s Defense Ministry argues that the North has yet to deploy the KN-08 and master the miniaturization technology, citing a lack of test launches and other relevant evidence.

“With Kim’s latest warnings, the possibility is growing further of a fifth nuclear test,” said Cheong Seong-chang, head of unification strategy research at the Sejong Institute.

“The North has also boasted that it has achieved the standardization of lightened warheads. If its claim is true, it should be another disturbing progress that they’re moving toward mass production,” he added, citing an earlier state media report on the leader’s visit to a nuclear weapons research institute.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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