The online news portal of TV5
BEIJING - North Korea has almost completed preparations for a third nuclear test, a senior source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters, which will draw further international condemnation following a failed rocket launch if it goes ahead.
The isolated and impoverished state sacrificed the chance of closer ties with the United States when it launched the long-range rocket on April 13 and was censured by the UN Security Council, including the North's sole major ally, China.
Critics say the rocket launch was aimed at honing the North's ability to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States, a move that would dramatically increase its military and diplomatic heft.
Kim took office in December and has lauded the country's military might, reaffirming his father's "military first" policies that have stunted economic development and appearing to dash slim hopes of an opening to the outside world.
Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, which have most to fear from any North Korean nuclear threat, are watching events anxiously and many observers say that Pyongyang may have the capacity to conduct a test using highly enriched uranium for the first time.
Defense experts say that by successfully enriching uranium, to make bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima nearly 70 years ago, the North would be able to significantly build up stocks of weapons-grade nuclear material.
South Korean defense sources have been quoted in domestic media as saying a launch could come within two weeks and one North Korea analyst has suggested that it could come as early as the North's "Army Day" on Wednesday.
"China is like a chameleon toward North Korea," said Kim Young-soo, professor of political science at Sogang University in Seoul. "It says it objects to North Korea's provocative acts, but it does not participate in punishing the North."
Reports have suggested that a Chinese company may have supplied a rocket launcher shown off at a military parade to mark this month's centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the state's founder, something that may be in breach of UN sanctions.
The source said there was debate in North Korea's top leadership over whether to go ahead with the launch in the face of US warnings and the possibility of further UN sanctions, but that hawks in the Korean People's Army had won the debate.
The source dismissed speculation that the failed launch had dealt a blow to Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, who came to power after his father Kim Jong-il died following a 17-year rule that saw North Korea experience a famine in the 1990s.
North Korean media has recently upped its criticism of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who cut off aid to Pyongyang when he took power in 2008, calling him a "rat" and a "bastard" and threatening to turn the South Korean capital to ashes.
"North Korea may consider abandoning (the test) if the United States agrees to a peace treaty," the source said, reiterating a long-standing demand by Pyongyang for recognition by Washington and a treaty to end the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce. (Additional reporting by Ju-min Park)