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North Korean leader vows to take strong action in sign nuclear test may be imminent

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    FILE - In this Sunday, April 15, 2012 file image made from KRT video, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds before giving his first public speech during a massive celebration marking the 100th birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea. South Korea's new president will not tolerate North Korean provocations but will continue to push for dialogue with Pyongyang, a special envoy to President-elect Park Geun-hye said just hours after the North's top governing body, headed by the country's young leader, declared it would continue atomic tests and rocket launches. (AP Photo/KRT via AP video, FILE) NORTH KOREA OUT, TV OUT (The Associated Press)

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    South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence at the Imjingak Pavilion, South Korea, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Following new U.N. sanctions punishing North Korea for a December rocket launch, North Korea warned that it would continue launching long-range rockets and conduct a nuclear test. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) (The Associated Press)

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    A woman walks by a board which reads "Forward to Final Victory under Leadership of Great Party,” left, and another reads reads "Let's firmly arm ourselves with the patriotism of Kim Jong Il," in Changgwang Street, Pothonggang District of Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday Jan, 25, 2013. Following new U.N. sanctions punishing North Korea for a December rocket launch, North Korea warned that it would continue launching long-range rockets and conduct a nuclear test. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon) (The Associated Press)

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    This Jan. 4, 2013 satellite image provided by GeoEye shows North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test facility. This and other recent satellite photos show North Korea could be almost ready to carry out its threat to conduct a nuclear test, a U.S. research institute said Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. The images of the Punggye-ri site where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009 reveal that over the past month roads have been kept clear of snow and that North Koreans may be sealing the tunnel into a mountainside where a nuclear device would be detonated. But it remains difficult to discern North Korea's true intentions as a test would be conducted underground. The analysis was provided to The Associated Press by 38 North, the website of U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. (AP Photo/GeoEye Satellite Image) (The Associated Press)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened top security and foreign affairs officials and ordered them to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," state media said Sunday, indicating that he plans to push forward with a threat to explode a nuclear device in defiance of the United Nations.

The meeting of top officials led by Kim makes clear that he backs Pyongyang's defiant stance in protest of U.N. Security Council punishment for a December rocket launch. The dispatch in the official Korean Central News Agency did not say when the meeting took place.

Last week, the Security Council condemned North Korea's Dec. 12 launch of a long-range rocket as a violation of a ban against nuclear and missile activity. The council, including North Korea ally China, punished Pyongyang with more sanctions and ordered the regime to refrain from a nuclear test — or face "significant action."

North Korea responded by rejecting the resolution and maintaining its right to launch a satellite into orbit as part of a peaceful civilian space program.

It also warned that it would keep developing rockets and testing nuclear devices to counter what it sees as U.S. hostility. A rare statement was issued Thursday by the powerful National Defense Commission, the top governing body led by Kim.

North Korea cites a U.S. military threat in the region as a key reason behind its drive to build nuclear weapons. The two countries fought on opposite sides of the Korean War, which ended after three years in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The U.S.-led U.N. Command mans the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, and Washington stations more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect its ally.

North Korea is estimated to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight bombs, according to American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited the country's nuclear complex northwest of Pyongyang in November 2010.

However, it is not known whether North Korean scientists have found a way to build nuclear warheads small enough to mount on a long-range missile.

Experts say regular tests are needed to perfect the technique, and another atomic test could take the country closer to its goal of building a warhead that can be mounted on a missile designed to strike the United States. North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.

South Korean defense officials say North Korea is technically ready to conduct a nuclear test in a matter of days.

Satellite photos taken Wednesday show that over the past month, roads have been kept clear of snow and that North Koreans may have been sealing the tunnel into a mountainside where a nuclear device would be detonated.

Analysis of the images of the Punggye-ri site was provided Friday to The Associated Press by 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The U.S., South Korea and other countries have warned North Korea not to go ahead with a nuclear test, saying that would only deepen the country's international isolation.

After meeting with Chinese officials Friday, U.S. envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies said a nuclear test would set back efforts to restart regional talks on the North's nuclear disarmament.