SEOUL: South Korea said on Thursday it believed it would be consulted by the United States before any possible pre-emptive US strike against Pyongyang, where foreign journalists gathered for “a big and important event”.

With a US aircraft carrier group steaming to the area, tensions on the Korean peninsula grew this week amid concern that the reclusive North could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test or more missile launches in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally and benefactor, has called for a peaceful resolution after a sharp rise in rhetoric between the United States and Pyongyang.

While US President Donald Trump has put North Korea “clearly on notice” that he would not tolerate provocative actions by the North, US officials have said his administration was focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions.

Trump has diverted the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group towards the Korean peninsula, which could take more than a week to arrive, in a show of force aimed at deterring North Korea from conducting another nuclear test or launching more missiles to coincide with major commemorative events.

The possibility of US military action against North Korea in response to such tests gained traction after the U.S. Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said he believed Washington would consult Seoul if it was considering a pre-emptive strike against the North.

“Under the South Korea-U.S. alliance, any important measure on the North is taken under consultation with the South Korea government and it will continue in the future,” Yun told a parliamentary hearing.

A Washington-based think tank that monitors North Korea, 38 North, said satellite images taken on Wednesday showed continued activity around the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on the east coast that showed it was ready for a new test.

South Korean officials said on Thursday there were no new signs to indicate a North Korean nuclear test was more likely, although they also said the North has maintained a state of readiness to conduct such a test at any time.

N. Korea may be capable of sarin-loaded missiles: Japan PM

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned on Thursday that North Korea may be capable of firing a missile loaded with sarin nerve gas toward Japan, as international concern mounted that a missile or nuclear test by the authoritarian state could be imminent.

“There is a possibility that North Korea is already capable of shooting missiles with sarin as warheads,” Abe told a parliamentary panel on national security and diplomacy.

Abe was responding to a question about Japan’s readiness at a time of increased regional tension. A US navy aircraft carrier is heading toward the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang prepares for the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung this weekend. And with US-South Korean wargames ongoing, North Korean has intensified rhetoric warning it would retaliate strongly against any aggression.

South Korea has long said it believes the North can conduct its sixth nuclear test whenever it chooses. The 38 North website , which monitors North Korea, said that satellite imagery of the country’s Pyunggye-ri nuclear test site suggests it is “primed and ready” for an explosion.

Researchers Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu wrote that images taken on Wednesday show continued activity around the site’s north portal, as well as personnel and pallets of equipment or supplies in the main administrative area.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2017