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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts report that North Korea is testing “nuclear triggering devices” and that its preparations for another nuclear test were at a final stage in June, quoting information from unnamed countries.

The panel of experts said in new excerpts from their latest report obtained Friday by The Associated Press that they have been “unable to identify the test locations and dates” for the tests of nuclear triggering devices reported by one U.

N. member state.

In excerpts obtained Thursday, the experts said North Korea is paving the way for additional nuclear tests with new preparations at its northeastern test site and continues to develop its capability to produce a key ingredient for nuclear weapons.

In the new excerpt, the panel said: “As of early June, two member states assessed that the preparation for nuclear tests was at a final stage.”

On other issues, the panel said in Thursday’s excerpts that North Korea conducted two major hacks this year, resulting in the theft of cryptocurrency assets worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Pyongyang also continues illicitly importing oil and exporting coal in violation of U.N. sanctions, using the same companies, networks and vessels, it said.

South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have said they detected North Korean efforts to prepare its northeastern Punggye-ri testing ground for another nuclear test. It would be the North’s seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The panel of experts’ report to the U.N. Security Council provides some details of the work being carried out at the site by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.

The experts said they observed that the DPRK started re-excavation work in March at the entrance to Tunnel 3 at Punggye-ri “and reconstructed support buildings originally dismantled in May 2018.”

“Satellite imagery showed increased numbers of vehicle tracks around this secondary entrance from mid-February 2022, followed by construction of a new building adjacent to the entrance at the beginning of March,” the panel said. “A pile of lumber, for possible use in the construction of the tunnel structure, was also detected around the same time.”

It added that, “Piles of soil from the tunnel excavation around the entrance were observed during this period.”

“Work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site paves the way for additional nuclear tests for the development of nuclear weapons,” the experts said, adding that this is an objective stated at the Eighth Congress of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in January 2021.

Robert Floyd, head of the U.N. nuclear test ban treaty organization, told a U.N. press conference Friday that its monitoring facilities detected the six previous DPRK nuclear tests. “If there is a seventh time, I’m very confident our system will pick it up, we’ll characterize it, and that information then gets shared with the states of the world,” he said.

Floyd is attending the high-level conference reviewing the landmark Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which began Monday and ends on Aug. 26. Under the NPT’s provisions, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France — agreed to negotiate toward eliminating their arsenals someday and nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them in exchange for a guarantee to be able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Floyd raised the question of whether the possibility of a seventh DPRK nuclear test will strengthen or weaken nonproliferation and disarmament arrangements, “and the appetite of states to see these things come into place.”

“I wonder as to how much that is actually feeding into the tone that we’ve heard this week during the review conference, where there was quite a deal of accommodation of various positions,” he said.

“I wonder whether the states are recognizing at a time such as this it is really important to be able to strengthen the NPT and to come together around some of these very important issues, rather than, `Oh, this is a reason we should abandon such an important thing as the cornerstone of nuclear architecture,’” Floyd said.

In another aspect of the DPRK’s nuclear program, analysts said satellite images last September showed that North Korea was expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, a sign that it wanted to boost production of the key bomb material.

The U.N. experts said in the new report: “DPRK continued to develop its capability for the production of nuclear fissile materials at the Yongbyon site.”

Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the DPRK demand to lift crippling U.S.-led sanctions and Washington’s demand for significant steps by Pyongyang toward nuclear disarmament.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expanded his ballistic missile program amid the diplomatic pause, and analysts say another nuclear test would escalate his brinkmanship aimed at cementing the North’s status as a nuclear power, and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

The panel of experts said the DPRK continued to accelerate its missile programs, launching 31 missiles “combining ballistic and guidance technologies,” including six ICBMs and two “explicitly described as ballistic weapons.” It said the DPRK also claimed to have advanced its development of “tactical nuclear weapons.”

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Vladimir Putin is not afraid to use nukes & he could launch strike very soon, warns top British general

VLADIMIR Putin is not afraid to use nukes - and could resort to such a strike as soon as next spring, a top British general has warned.

Sir Richard Barrons warned the Russian tyrant is "likely" to use tactical nuclear weapons if he faces being driven back in Ukraine.

3Vladimir Putin is feared to be ready to use nukes in UkraineCredit: AFP 3Russian missiles - such as the Iskander - are capable of carrying 'tactical' nukesCredit: AFP

The decorated commander - who retired in 2016 - explained that the Russians doctrine accepts the use of small nuclear weapons as a means of "coercion".

"It would be the first use of nuclear weapons for 77 years, breaking an enormous taboo, but this is not inconceivable to Russians if the ends justify it in their eyes," he wrote in The Sunday Times.

Sir Richard warned the West needs to consider the fact Putin is now "likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons" if he faces being pushed back in Ukraine.

And with Ukraine expected to begin a new offensive to try and drive out the Russians, the leading general said Russia could put nukes on the table as soon as the early months of 2023.

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Sir Richard wrote: "A broader Ukrainian offensive and mobilisation expected as soon as next spring could lead to battlefield successes and the liberation of land seized by Russia.

"This might create other risks.

"If Putin senses defeat, will he be tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons to change reality on the battlefield?"

He explained that a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine would not be using massive city-killing bombs which could completely level parts of London or New York.

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Russian doctrine instead demands smaller weapons for such battlefield use - possibly less powerful than the nukes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans to end World War 2.

Even the comparably "small" size of these weapons - the Fat Man and Little Boy - killed more than 200,000 people and wrought unspeakable horrors on the two cities.

Sir Richard suggested a situation where a 10kt warhead could be detonated by the Russians - potentially delivered by an Iskander missile.

"These weapons exist for just the sort of circumstances the war in Ukraine may lead to, so nobody should claim total surprise if they are used," he said.

The general suggested the use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine could be a breaking point for the West - potentially leading to a wider intervention and an effort to remove Putin.

And he warned of the wider consequences of the nuclear taboo being shattered after three quarters of a century, with nations such as China, India and Pakistan all nuclear armed and often teetering on a knife edge of geopolitical tensions.

Ukraine meanwhile is facing a "long, bitter winter" as the war rolls on.

Kyiv has boasted it hopes to recruit a one million-strong army to drive the Russians back - but all these soldiers have to be equipped and supplied should the offensive be successful.

If Putin senses defeat, will he be tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons to change reality on the battlefield?

Sir Richard Barrons

Putin had hoped his war would be over in a matter of days, with it suggested he could potentially launch a blitzkrieg assault to seize Kyiv.

But this never happened - and some 164 days on the war continues to be a bloody, brutal and grinding conflict laced with unspeakable atrocities committed by the Russians.

And with every day, week and month that sleeps by, the looming shadow of nuclear war is cast long over Ukraine.

Russia is thought to have around 2,000 nuclear weapons in their arsenal in the form of small yield missiles, torpedoes and artillery shells.

Moscow's war doctrine is believed to be open to using nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict as an intimidation tactic - and use of such a weapon must be signed off personally by Putin.

The tactic became known as "escalate to de-escalate".

Moscow has previously practiced such strategies in the field - such as simulating a Nato attack on the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The scenario saw the Russian forces strike back at the invading West by firing nuclear arms at Poland and the US.

3Sir Richard Barrons issued the dire warning over PutinCredit: Estonian Defence Forces

And these drills are believed to have taken place in the nineties and noughties, with tactical nukes used for both offense and defense.

The weapons lack the truly terrifying devastating destructive power of the biggest Cold War-era weapons - such as the Tsar Bomba.

A single 58 megaton Tsar Bomba could cause devastation across 50 miles area, kill millions of people, send a shockwave that would circle the globe three times, and cause a mushroom cloud visible for 500 miles.

Such a bomb was deemed far too big to ever be used due to the potentially apocalyptic consequences of such a nuclear exchange.

But that sort of thinking is what has pushed war planners to develop and potentially use tactical - as opposed to strategic - nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, Dr Patricia Lewis, an expert from the Chatham House think tank, told BBC News: "They might not see it as crossing this big nuclear threshold.

"They could see it as part of their conventional forces."

And meanwhile, General James R. Clapper Jr. a retired US Air Force commander, warned Moscow has lowered its bar for using atomic weapons.

He told the New York Times that Russia regards nuclear arms as "utilitarian rather than unthinkable".

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And elsewhere in Ukraine, there is the ongoing fear of a nuclear accident as Russia was accused of shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.

Western nations continue to support Kyiv in its fight against Putin with weapons and aid - but the ongoing conflict has plunged the world into tensions not seen since the Cold War.

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