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No Sign of North Korea Nuclear Test Amid Threats, U.S. Says

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April 24 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea doesn’t appear to be getting ready to conduct a nuclear test, a U.S. defense spokesman said, after the totalitarian state threatened to reduce the South Korean government “to ashes.”

“I’m not aware of any specific actions taken to bolster the rhetoric,” Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon. China, North Korea’s closest ally, today expressed “deep concern” over the latest developments on the Korean peninsula and called for calm.

Kirby’s comments came hours after North Korea said a special action squad will turn South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and his government “to ashes in three or four minutes” using “unprecedented peculiar means and methods,” according to a statement on the official Korean Central News Agency. South Korean defense shares ended mixed after rising yesterday.

While North Korea often issues threats of war, the regime has heightened its rhetoric against Lee this month in marking the centennial of state founder Kim Il Sung. A rocket fired April 13 as a highlight of the celebrations disintegrated after liftoff, prompting speculation new leader Kim Jong Un will detonate an atomic device to regain face.

Alert Levels

South Korea’s military hasn’t raised alert levels as no special North Korean troop movements were sighted, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Lee Bung Woo told reporters today in Seoul. Lee’s office had no comment, spokeswoman Lee Mi Yon said. North Korea has twice detonated nuclear devices, once in 2006 and again in 2009.

“Kim Jong Un is trying to gain confidence as leader by showcasing the country’s military might,” said Baek Seung Joo, a military specialist at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “Ultimately he’s trying tell the world that it is Pyongyang that controls the situation on the Korean peninsula, not the U.S. or South Korea.”

Victek Co., a maker of electronic warfare equipment, rose 3.6 percent to close at 3,155 won in Seoul after gaining by the daily limit of 15 percent yesterday. Naval ship equipment manufacturer Speco Co. fell 8 percent to 2,950 won after rising 13 percent yesterday. Military communications firm Huneed Technologies fell 5.3 percent after rising 5.9 percent yesterday. The benchmark Kospi index fell 0.5 percent.

Broke Agreement

North Korea broke off an agreement to halt testing of nuclear devices and long-range missiles after the U.S. canceled food-assistance in response to the botched launch. North Korea is “free” to take “necessary retaliatory measures,” its Foreign Ministry said, according to an April 18 KCNA statement.

“We have taken note of the latest development of the situation on the Korean peninsula in recent days and expressed our deep concern,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters today in Beijing in response to a question about North Korea’s threat yesterday. “We urge parties concerned to stay calm and exercise restraint.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao met yesterday with North Korean Workers’ Party senior official Kim Yong Il and pledged to maintain close ties between the two governments, China Central Television said today.

A third nuclear test may happen soon, Reuters reported, citing an unidentified source with ties to North Korea and China. South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said no new activity has been sighted at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site since the preparations noted in an April 9 intelligence report.

New Cruise Missile

South Korea responded last week by unveiling a new cruise missile and a ballistic missile that it said could hit anywhere in the North. The military has deployed the missiles and wants to ensure it can respond to North Korean provocations, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said April 19.

Lee said the same day South Korea needs “powerful weapons, a strong mindset and the newest weapons that can overpower North Korea.”

North Korea’s arsenal includes SCUD, Rodong and Musudan missiles. The Musudan has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles) and can carry a 650-kilogram warhead, according to South Korean estimates. The country is trying to develop missiles with a range of 6,700 kilometers that may eventually be able to carry warheads weighing as much as 1,000 kilograms, according to U.S. and South Korean estimates.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at syoon32@bloomberg.net; Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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