North Korea has told its key ally, China, that it is prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, said a source with direct knowledge of the message.
Further tests could also be accompanied this year by another rocket launch, said the source who has direct access to the top levels of government in both Beijing and Pyongyang.
The isolated regime conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing global condemnation and a stern warning from the United States that it was a threat and a provocation.
“It’s all ready. A fourth and fifth nuclear test and a rocket launch could be conducted soon, possibly this year,” the source said, adding that the fourth nuclear test would be much larger than the third at an equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT.
U.S. President Barack Obama vowed on Monday to pursue further nuclear arms cuts with Russia, urged China to follow suit and issued stern warnings to North Korea and Iran in their nuclear standoffs with the West.
Acknowledging the United States has more warheads than necessary, Obama held out the prospect of new reductions in the U.S. arsenal as he sought to rally world leaders for additional concrete steps against the threat of nuclear terrorism.
“We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need,” Obama told students at South Korea’s Hankuk University a few hours before a global nuclear security summit opened in Seoul.
Read more: Obama vows more nuclear cuts with Russia
A majority of Americans would support military action against Iran if there were evidence that Tehran is building nuclear weapons, even if such action led to higher gasoline prices, a Reuters/Ipsos polled showed on Tuesday.
The poll showed 62 percent of Americans would back Israel taking military action against Iran for the same reasons.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said all options are on the table in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
Israel has asked the United States for advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites, an Israeli official said on Thursday.
“Such a request was made” around the time of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the official said, confirming media reports.
But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, played down as “unrealistic” reports that the United States would condition supplying the hardware on Israel promising not to attack Iran this year.
North Korea agreed on Wednesday to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches, and to allow checks by nuclear inspectors, in an apparent policy shift that paves the way for resuming long-stalled disarmament talks.
The surprise breakthrough, announced simultaneously by the U.S. State Department and North Korea’s official news agency, makes possible the resumption of six-nation nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. It followed talks between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in Beijing last week.
While analysts cautioned that Pyongyang has backtracked repeatedly on past deals, the moves by North Korea mark a sharp change in course, at least outwardly, by North Korea’s reclusive leadership following the death in December of veteran leader Kim Jong-il.
Read more: North Korea agrees to nuclear moratorium