SOUTH Korea's military said Sunday, September 3, that North Korea is believed to have conducted its sixth nuclear test after it detected a strong earthquake, hours after Pyongyang claimed that its leader has inspected a hydrogen bomb meant for a new intercontinental ballistic missile.
South Korea's weather agency and the Joint Chief of Staff said an artificial 5.6 magnitude quake occurred at 12:29 p.m. local time, in Kilju, northern Hamgyong Province. The United States (US) Geological Survey called the first quake an explosion with a magnitude 6.3.
Shortly after, Yonhap news agency said a second quake was detected with a magnitude 4.6 but South Korea's weather agency denied another quake occurred. There was no word from the military in Seoul about the possible second quake.
North Korea conducted its fifth test last year in September. In confirmed, the latest test would mark yet another big step forward in North Korean attempts to obtain a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching deep into the US mainland.
The US State Department had no immediate reaction. South Korea's presidential office said it will hold a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Moon Jae-in.
North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and has since maintained a torrid pace in weapons tests, including flight-testing developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and flying a powerful mid-range missile over Japan.
Earlier Sunday, photos released by the North Korean government showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM. What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen near the alleged bomb in one picture, which could not be independently verified and which was taken without outside journalists present. Another photo showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.
Aside from the factuality of the North's claim, the language in its statement seems a strong signal that Pyongyang will soon conduct its sixth nuclear weapon test, which is crucial if North Korean scientists are to fulfill the national goal of an arsenal of viable nuclear ICBMs that can reach the US mainland.
There's speculation that such a test could come on or around the September 9 anniversary of North Korea's national founding, something it did last year.
As part of the North's weapons work, Kim was said by his propaganda mavens to have made a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute and inspected a "homemade" H-bomb with "super explosive power" that "is adjustable from tens (of) kiloton to hundreds (of) kiloton."
North Korea in July conducted its first ever ICBM tests, part of a stunning jump in progress for the country's nuclear and missile program since Kim rose to power following his father's death in late 2011.
The White House said that President Donald Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan regarding "ongoing efforts to maximize pressure on North Korea." The statement did not say whether the conversation came before or after the North's latest claim.
A long line of US presidents has failed to check North Korea's persistent pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons. Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for aid fell apart in early 2009.
The North said in its statement Sunday that its H-bomb "is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with a great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals."
Kim, according to the statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, claimed that "all components of the H-bomb were homemade ... thus enabling the country to produce powerful nuclear weapons as many as it wants."
In what could be read as a veiled warning of more nuclear tests, Kim underlined the need for scientists to "dynamically conduct the campaign for successfully concluding the final-stage research and development for perfecting the state nuclear force" and "set forth tasks to be fulfilled in the research into nukes."
The two Koreas have shared the world's most heavily fortified border since their war in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea as deterrence against North Korea. (AP)