N.Korea 'Ready' for 4th Nuke Test

North Korea has finished preparations for a fourth nuclear test at Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told the National Assembly on Monday. But there are no signs that a test is imminent, he added.

Kim said his ministry is checking reports by experts that the North is also preparing for the launch of a long-range missile in Tongchang-ri in North Pyongan Province.

Specialist website 38 North at Johns Hopkins University on Thursday said commercial satellite images indicate that North Korea is nearing completion of modifications to the gantry at the rocket launch pad, adding an 11th level so the facility can handle large rockets of up to 50 m in length.

Meanwhile, South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command the same day officially announced the schedule for annual joint Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercises from Feb. 24 to April 18.

On Sunday, the UN Command -- a nominally separate entity tasked with overseeing the armistice -- informed the North of the schedule of the exercises. The North usually protests vociferously against the drills, but as of Monday afternoon there had been no response.

The drills overlap with planned reunions of families separated by the Korean War on Feb. 20-25 at the Mt. Kumgang resort, but Seoul hopes they will not scupper the reunions again.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 11, 2014 09:34 KST