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North Korea targets US

North Korea has threatened the United States by saying it would launch nuclear rocket tests in that country.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Picture: AFP

SEOUL - North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its "sworn enemy".

The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the UN Security Council agreed to a US-backed resolution to censure and sanction North Korea for a rocket launch in December that breached UN rules.

"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be "technically ready" for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the UN sanctions.

China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the US-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang's two earlier nuclear tests.

Thursday's statement by North Korea represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.

China's Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out North Korea, urging the "relevant party" not to take any steps that would raise tensions.

"We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.

North Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.

"After all these years and numerous rounds of six-party talks we can see that China's influence over North Korea is actually very limited. All China can do is try to persuade them not to carry out their threats," said Cai Jian, an expert on Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former ruler Kim Jong-il's Feb 16 birthday.

"North Korea will have felt betrayed by China for agreeing to the latest UN resolution and they might be targeting (China) as well (with this statement)," said Lee Seung-yeol, senior research fellow at Ewha Institute of Unification Studies in Seoul.

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