World ‘holding its breath’ as North Korea plots first nuclear test in five years

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has said the world is holding its breath after warnings that North Korea may be on the verge of triggering a seventh nuclear test.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said a nuclear test would be further “confirmation of a programme which is moving full steam ahead in a way that is incredibly concerning”.

Speaking to reporters in New York on Thursday, he said: “Everybody is holding its breath about this,” adding that “further tests, of course, mean that they are refining the preparations and the construction of their arsenal”.

Tensions have been rising this year on the Korean Peninsula, with Kim Jong-un – the North Korean leader – test-launching an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles, including one that flew over Japan earlier this month.

On Friday, North Korea fired two more short-range ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling it a “significant provocation”.

The latest launches came as Seoul and Washington prepare to stage major combined air drills, called Vigilant Storm, next week.

International negotiations over North Korean nuclear disarmament collapsed during a summit between Mr Kim and Donald Trump, the former US president, in Hanoi in 2019. They have not recovered since.

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