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North Korea's neighbors caution it not to conduct nuclear test

North Korea's neighbors caution it not to conduct nuclear test

Neighboring countries on Wednesday cautioned North Korea against carrying out a planned nuclear test, while a top South Korean security official said there was no sign a test was imminent.
China, Japan and South Korea all announced separate one-on-one summits among their leaders next week, ratcheting up diplomacy over tensions caused by the North's announcement Tuesday that it intends to conduct the test.
Such a test would confirm the North's claim that it has atomic weapon capabilities, and would severely undermine efforts to prevent an Asian nuclear arms race by getting Pyongyang to disarm.
South Korea's top official on dealings with the North, Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, said Wednesday that there were no definite signs that the test is imminent.
However, Lee also told lawmakers there was "a high possibility" it would eventually take place if "efforts to resume the six-party talks fail," Yonhap news agency reported.
North Korea has boycotted six-nation nuclear talks _ which also involve China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. _ for nearly a year, angered by U.S. financial restrictions imposed over the North's alleged illegal activities such as money laundering and counterfeiting.
Meanwhile, an official at the North's embassy in Australia, Pak Myong-guk, who described himself as a minister, said Wednesday that Pyongyang's planned nuclear test "is not provocative."
"It is just the corresponding measure for defense, for us to defend ourselves," Pak told The Associated Press. "It is the really essential process for nuclear deterrent."
The North often insists it needs nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack.
South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun on Wednesday called for a "cool-headed and stern" response to the North's announcement, while Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said a nuclear test by North Korea could cause a change in its engagement policy toward the communist regime.
"If North Korea pushes ahead with a nuclear test, North Korea should take full responsibility for all consequences," Choo said after an emergency meeting of South Korean security ministers.
Asked to elaborate on what the consequences would be, Choo said a North Korean nuclear test could bring about a "shift" in Seoul's engagement policy toward the North, but also stressed that doesn't mean abandoning that policy altogether.
South Korea has consistently pursued dialogue with North Korea since their leaders first met in a historic summit in 2000. That approach has caused a rift with Washington which favors a harder line toward the communist regime.
Seoul is one of the main aid providers to the impoverished North, but it suspended regular relief shipments after the July missile tests. However, the South later agreed to send emergency aid to help the North cope with the effects of massive floods that struck the country in mid-July.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said the Security Council is expected to take stronger action against Pyongyang if it tests a nuclear weapon.
North Korea "will face a strong and united response from the international community" if it conducts a test, Yu told a regular news briefing.
After the North's July 5 missile launches, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution banning all U.N. members from missile or missile-related dealings with the North.
China _ North Korea's ally and key benefactor _ appealed Wednesday to North Korea for calm and restraint. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao appealed to all sides in six-nation disarmament talks to avoid "actions that intensify tensions."
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said "we simply could not accept" a nuclear test by the North.
The leaders of all three countries plan meetings in the coming days. Abe will head to China on Sunday and to Seoul on Monday, and Roh will travel to Beijing on Oct. 13.
In Australia, North Korean Ambassador Chon Jae-hong was summoned to meet senior officials on Wednesday and "was warned in the strongest possible terms of the severe consequences should North Korea conduct a nuclear test," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a statement.
"A nuclear test would be completely unacceptable to the international community, and would provoke a very strong international response," Downer said.
Pyongyang has not conducted any known test to prove its claim that it has nuclear weapons. Some experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build half a dozen or more nuclear bombs, though there are doubts about whether it could deliver them accurately on a warhead.
A North Korean nuclear test could prompt Japan to seek its own nuclear deterrent, intensifying historical tensions with China and South Korea, both of which suffered under Japanese colonial rule in the early 20th century.
Although North Korea is dotted with underground military installations, media reports in South Korea have identified North Hamkyong province on the North's northeast coast as a likely site for a nuclear test.