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Japan steps up North Korea monitoring amid speculation of possible weekend nuclear test

Japan steps up North Korea monitoring amid speculation of possible weekend nuclear test

Japan said Friday it was stepping up monitoring of North Korea amid growing speculation that the communist nation could carry out a nuclear weapons test as early as this weekend.
Top Japanese officials said the country was preparing for any contingency, although they said there was no specific intelligence pointing to a test this weekend.
"We are dealing with the situation with thorough information-gathering and contingency plans, should there be any unforeseeable situation," Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma told a news conference. "We are doing all we can from all sides."
"If a nuclear test is carried out, our monitoring system can detect earthquakes or radioactivity," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said. "We have taken the appropriate steps."
An underground nuclear explosion can trigger seismic waves through the earth's crust that can be strong enough to be picked up by earthquake-detecting equipment.
North Korea threatened Tuesday to conduct a nuclear test to prove it is a nuclear power, although it gave no date.
Caution levels shot up Friday as a top Japanese diplomat said a test over the weekend was a possibility.
"Based on the development so far, it would be best to view that a test is possible this weekend," Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi told Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi.
Yachi was speaking in Washington after a series of talks with U.S. officials on North Korea's latest nuclear threat.
Shiozaki said the additional caution was not based on any intelligence indicating the timing of a possible nuclear test.
Japan also proposed that the U.N. Security Council issue a statement condemning North Korea's plans. The council agreed Friday to adopt a statement, based on the Japanese proposal, that urged the North to cancel its test and return immediately to multinational talks on its nuclear ambitions.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he separately plans to produce a message demanding that North Korea abort its nuclear test plans during his fence-mending summits with his counterparts in Beijing and Seoul next week.
"It is important to discuss the situation and share our views," Abe told a parliamentary committee. "I plan to deliver a message, with each leader, to demand North Korea not conduct this outrage."
Media reports have speculated that a test could come as early as Sunday, the anniversary of Korean leader Kim Jong Il's appointment as head of the country's communist party in 1997.
Japan has two intelligence-gathering satellites and launched a third in September that can monitor the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs.
On Thursday, a U.S. military plane capable of detecting radiation took off from Okinawa in southern Japan and is thought to be monitoring whether North Korea carries out a test, according to media reports. U.S. military officials in Japan refused to comment on the report.