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Seoul to China, Russia: Stop Nuke Test 06/27 06:06

   A top South Korean official said Monday that North Korea is increasingly 
targeting the South with its nuclear arms program, and urged China and Russia 
to persuade the North not to conduct a widely expected nuclear test.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A top South Korean official said Monday that 
North Korea is increasingly targeting the South with its nuclear arms program, 
and urged China and Russia to persuade the North not to conduct a widely 
expected nuclear test.

   Unification Minster Kwon Youngse's comments came after North Korean leader 
Kim Jong Un re-emphasized his nuclear ambitions in a key military meeting last 
week and approved unspecified new operational duties for front-line army units.

   Experts say North Korea could be planning to deploy battlefield nuclear 
weapons along its tense border with South Korea. During a prolonged stalemate 
in nuclear diplomacy, North Korea has spent much of the past three years 
expanding its arsenal of short-range solid-fuel missiles that are potentially 
capable of evading missile defenses and striking targets throughout South 
Korea, including U.S. bases there.

   U.S. and South Korean officials say that North Korea has all but finished 
preparations for its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed 
to have detonated a thermonuclear warhead designed for intercontinental 
ballistic missiles. North Korea may use its next nuclear test to claim that it 
has acquired the ability to build small nuclear warheads that can be placed on 
short-range missiles or other new weapons systems it has demonstrated in recent 
months, analysts say.

   Kwon, who oversees South Korea's relations with North Korea, said at a news 
conference that the North is exploiting a favorable environment to push ahead 
with weapons development and overturn the regional status quo as the U.S.-led 
West remains distracted over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He said North 
Korea's nuclear ambitions pose a "very serious and fundamental threat" to South 
Korea and that Seoul is preparing stern countermeasures in response to a 
possible North Korean nuclear test. He didn't elaborate.

   "North Korea's transition in weapons development from long-range ballistic 
missiles to short-range ballistic missiles, from strategic nuclear weapons to 
tactical nuclear weapons, is obviously targeted toward South Korea," Kwon said.

   "It seems clear that North Korea is simultaneously pursuing an ability to 
attack the United States and to attack South Korea," he said.

   Kwon said North Korea could go ahead with a nuclear test at "any time."

   While the U.S. government has vowed to pursue additional sanctions against 
North Korea if it conducts another nuclear test, the possibility of meaningful 
new punitive measures remains unclear because Russia's war in Ukraine has 
deepened divisions among permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. China 
and Russia have vetoed U.S.-sponsored proposals that would have increased 
sanctions on North Korea over some of its recent ballistic missile tests.

   Kwon, who served as South Korea's ambassador to China from 2013 to 2015, 
expressed hope that Beijing and Moscow will react differently to a North Korean 
nuclear test since both have maintained public support for a denuclearized 
Korean Peninsula.

   "If North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test at a time when the global 
security situation is as instable as it is now, the country will face enormous 
criticism from international society, and the response will be more than just 
words," Kwon said.

   North Korea has conducted more ballistic tests in the first half of 2022 
than it has in any previous entire year, firing around 30 missiles, including 
its first tests of ICBMs in nearly five years. Kim has punctuated the tests 
with repeated comments that North Korea would use nuclear weapons proactively 
if threatened or provoked, which experts say is an escalation in its nuclear 

   The U.S. government has reaffirmed its commitment to defending allies South 
Korea and Japan with its full range of military capabilities, including 
nuclear, but there are concerns in Seoul that North Korea's ICBMs could make 
Washington hesitant in the event of another war on the Korean Peninsula.

   Experts say North Korea's unusually heavy testing activity this year 
underscores Kim's intent to advance his arsenal as well as pressure the United 
States into accepting North Korea as a nuclear power, thereby strengthening its 
position in negotiating economic and security concessions.

   Talks have stalled since early 2019 because of disagreements over a 
relaxation of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea in exchange for 
North Korean disarmament steps.

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