The United States and South Korea claim that North Korea has finished preparations for a new nuclear test.
In a speech addressing lawmakers on Tuesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said that Pyongyang had fully prepared to conduct its first test of an atomic device in five years.
"We assess that it has already completed preparations for a seventh nuclear test," Yoon said, alleging that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had defended the preemptive use of nuclear weapons.
Yoon's remarks came just a day after US State Department spokesman Ned Price issued the same warning, saying that the US was set to face any threat posed by the North.
"Our concern regarding the potential for another North Korean nuclear test, which would be its seventh, has been consistent for some time now. We assess that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site for what would be its seventh test," he said in a daily press conference, referring to North Korea by the abbreviation for its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We are preparing for all contingencies in close coordination with our partners and allies around the world," Price said.
The developments came as US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman began a three-day visit to Japan on Monday for bilateral and trilateral talks with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo have already pledged stern and united punishment for another nuclear test by Pyongyang, saying that such a test would be in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Pyongyang detonated its sixth nuclear device in 2017 following a series of weapon tests that had prompted former US President Donald Trump to warn of "fire and fury." Despite that threat, Kim and Trump held three meetings on the Korean Peninsula, but nothing came of the meetings. Washington then began to impose new sanctions against the North, prompting Pyongyang to carry out a series of missile tests.
Earlier this month, Kim said his country's nuclear combat forces were at "full preparedness for actual war," stressing that the tests were another warning to the North's enemies.
Early last week, South Korea announced the start of its Hoguk war games with the US, claiming that they were aimed at ramping up the two countries' ability to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The war games marked the latest of a series of joint military exercises by the US and South Korea in recent months, and joint maneuvers carried out with Japanese troops.
Pyongyang has reacted angrily to the war games by Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo, calling them provocative and vowing to take countermeasures.
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