Seoul: North Korea preparing for 4th nuclear test

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Seoul: North Korea preparing for 4th nuclear test
North Koran defectors prepare to release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. The letters on balloons read "End the world's worst three generation dictatorship and Down with Kim Jong Un." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koran defectors prepare to release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean marine LVT-7 landing craft sail to shores through smoke screens during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea said North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koran defectors watch the sky as they release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koran defectors prepare plastic bags containing leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, for attaching to balloons in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies are dropped from balloons which were released by North Koran defectors in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV news program showing the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 26, 2014. North Korea fired three short-range projectiles Thursday into the waters off its east coast, a South Korean defense official said. The move was most likely a routine test-firing, but the official said it could also be meant to stoke tensions with Seoul. The writing on the screen reads "The missiles were launched to alert and express its internal solidarity." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man watches a TV news program showing the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 26, 2014. North Korea fired three short-range projectiles Thursday into the waters off its east coast, a South Korean defense official said. The move was most likely a routine test-firing, but the official said it could also be meant to stoke tensions with Seoul. The writing on tje screen reads "The missiles were launched to alert and express its internal solidarity." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers and soldiers vow to smash the "U.S. imperialists" as they gather for a meeting to mark the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. The writing on the sign in foreground left reads "Don't forget the wolfish American imperialists!" (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Pyongyang citizens march through the Kim Il Sung Square while chanting slogans and holding posters denouncing the United States to mark the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Posters read: "Thousand-fold revenge" and "Severe Punishment." (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers and soldiers fire their weapons during an event marking the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers and soldiers fire their weapons during an event marking the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers prepare to fire their pistols during an event marking the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
A South Korean marine LVT-7 landing craft sail to shores through a smoke screen during the U.S.-South Korea joint landing exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea said North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean and U.S. Marines aim their machine gunds during the U.S.-South Korea joint landing exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea says North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In this photo provided by the Ongjin County, residents of Yeonpyeong Island rest as they evacuate from their homes to a shelter on the island, South Korea, near the West Sea border with North Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. North and South Korea fired artillery shells into each other's waters Monday, a flare-up of animosity between the rivals that forced residents of five front-line South Korean islands to evacuate to shelters, South Korean officials said. (AP Photo/The Ongjin County)
South Korean marine LVT-7 landing craft sail to shores through smoke screens during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea said North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A South Korean Marine stands on a beach as amphibious assault vehicles (in background) approach the seashore during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. Meanwhile, the two Koreas traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter a day after the North drove up tensions by threatening a new nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Marines take a position on a beach during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. Meanwhile, the two Koreas traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter a day after the North drove up tensions by threatening a new nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Marine amphibious assault vehicles land on the seashore during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. North Korea announced a live-fire drill on March 31 near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, further ratcheting up tensions a day after threatening a 'new form' of nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
US (L) and South Korean (bottom) marines take a positon during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. North Korea announced a live-fire drill on March 31 near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, further ratcheting up tensions a day after threatening a 'new form' of nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Marine amphibious assault vehicles land on the seashore during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. North Korea announced a live-fire drill on March 31 near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, further ratcheting up tensions a day after threatening a 'new form' of nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
North Koran defectors prepare to release a portrait of deceased North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop by hanging it from balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. The letters on the portrait read " Down with Kim Jong Un." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea is making final preparations to conduct its fourth nuclear test, South Korea's defense minister said Thursday, but he added that it could be a bluff.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told South Korean journalists that North Korea is able to detonate a nuclear device at any moment, though he didn't elaborate on what the final step of its preparations would be, according to ministry officials.

Kim also said that although North Korea is ready to conduct a nuclear test, it may not intend to set off the device soon, and instead is trying to trick outside observers into believing a test is imminent, the officials said, requesting anonymity under department rules.

North Korea has threatened in recent weeks to conduct a nuclear test to protest what it calls U.S. and South Korean hostility and international condemnation over its rocket and missile tests earlier this year. South Korea has warned North Korea would face serious consequences if the test is made.

Pyongyang has called for the resumption of long-dormant international aid-for-disarmament talks, but Washington and Seoul say the North must first move toward disarmament. North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons as a deterrent against U.S. military threats.

Many North Korea watchers had suspected a nuclear test would occur when President Barack Obama visited Seoul last month, but nothing happened. Analysts remain divided over whether North Korea will go ahead with a test soon.

A fourth test would mark another defiant response to U.S.-led international pressures on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Western experts believe North Korea has a handful of rudimentary bombs, though it's not yet believed to be capable of producing warheads small enough to mount on a long-range missile that could threaten the U.S. Another nuclear test could put the North a step closer to that goal.

Recent months have seen animosities flare up on the Korean Peninsula with Pyongyang conducting a barrage of rocket and missile tests and resuming fierce rhetoric against Seoul and Washington. Before then, the North had been gradually dialing down its threats and seeking improved ties with South Korea in what foreign analysts said was an attempt to lure investment and aid.

On Thursday, Seoul's Defense Ministry announced that a joint investigation by South Korea and the U.S. concluded that three drones found in the South in March and April were flown by North Korea on military surveillance missions. A ministry statement called the drone flights a military provocation and said South Korea will react strongly. North Korea has denied it sent such drones and accused South Korea of plotting a fabrication.

South Korean defense officials said the drones are considered crude and low-tech but that it's the first time North Korean drones have been found crashed in South Korea.

The two Koreas are divided along the world's most heavily armed border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea as buttress against potential North Korean aggression.

A year ago, Pyongyang made a torrent of threats to launch nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington in protest of U.N. sanctions that were toughened following its third bomb test.
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