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Armitage expects North Korean nuclear test before year-end

AFP | September 25 2006

Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said Monday that North Korea may test a nuclear weapon by the end of this year, sparking "huge international ramifications."

"As a personal opinion I think you have an even chance of a nuclear device detonation by the end of the year, and that in the longer time it's more likely than not that North Korea will detonate a nuclear device," he told a forum in the South Korean capital.

"I think in their logic it's the next rational escalation point," Armitage said in response to a question from the audience.

"Clearly, this will have huge international ramifications."

In response, Armitage said, he would expect US President George W. Bush to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to consult other countries involved in six-nation talks on North Korea, and simultaneously to take the issue to the United Nations.

"I personally think that if North Korea were to do that (conduct a test), then the United States should move more forces into the area ... to make it clear to North Korea that each time they provoke, they find themselves in a less advantageous military situation."

The six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, are aim at persuading Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits and security guarantees.

They have been suspended since November when the North boycotted them in protest at US financial sanctions.

In July the communist state test-fired seven missiles and there have been reports it is preparing a nuclear test.

North Korea declared in February 2005 that it had built nuclear weapons but is not known to have conducted any tests.

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