North Korea 'ready for third nuclear test'

An anti-North Korean protester carries a mock North Korean missile at a rally to denounce its nuclear test, in Seoul June 15, 2009 (Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)
South Korea’s Defense Ministry is convinced its neighbor Pyongyang has everything in place in order to conduct a third nuclear test.

­“Substantial preparations for the test have been completed," a military official has said in Seoul on Tuesday, Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency reports. “Only a political decision is needed.”

It’s thought the new test would be carried out at the site of the North's previous underground nuclear detonations of 2006 and 2009 – P'unggye-ri in the country's north-east.

In early April, South Korean intelligence already reported Pyongyang was getting ready for a third test. A report with several satellite images showing the final stages of excavation of an alleged new tunnel, was distributed to several media outlets.

Following that, Pyongyang furthermore announced it is “no longer bound” by a deal with the US, which provided a nuclear and missile test moratorium in return for food aid.

On February 29, the two countries had struck an agreement, under which North Korea froze nuclear tests, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon plant.

The Obama administration responded by offering 240,000 tons of food, but suspended the delivery after Pyongyang’s failed missile launch on April 13, calling it a “provocative action which threatens regional security and violates international law.”

Soon after the attempted launch, on the basis of American space reconnaissance data Seoul claimed North Korea was assembling a new long-range ballistic missile.

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China under fire for missile assistance to North Korea

­The White House said on Monday it had raised with Beijing allegations that a Chinese firm allegedly sold North Korea components for a missile transporter, in defiance of a UN ban on such military sales. The vehicle was showcased in a recent military parade celebrating the centennial of the birth of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

A Reuters report suggests that the Chinese firm which may have provided Pyongyang with the chassis or other parts of the off-road transport vehicle, appears to have a press release on its website that boasts about the sale.

Dated to last year, the release refers to the successful delivery of "the largest self-propelled overload special off-road transporter in China” on May 17, 2011. The English-language press release also refers specifically to the vehicle chassis, which Washington believes ended up in Pyongyang.

The company’s official denied the deal.

"We've had trade cooperation in the past with South Korea, but not with North Korea," he said. "We don't have any exchanges with South Korea at the moment."

Beijing has always resolutely denied all similar allegations as unfounded. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin reiterated that China's position has not changed.

“We remain in touch with all sides, including the United States, on the issue of non-proliferation," he is quoted as saying.

On Monday, Chinese President Hu Jintao reaffirmed traditional ties between the two neighbors and claimed to “boost strategic co-operation.”

North Korea is barred from importing technology for its nuclear and missile programs under sanctions the UN Security Council imposed after Pyongyang's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. The sanctions also b