‘North Korea said on Thursday that it planned to carry out a third nuclear test aimed at its “arch-enemy” the United States in response to tightened UN sanctions, in a statement condemned by Washington as “needlessly provocative”.

The announcement also prompted a call for restraint from the North’s sole major ally China, and a warning from rival South Korea to heed the demands of the international community.

Following a U.N. Security Council meeting this week, the communist state hurled fresh invective at its U.S.-led foes in a statement from its National Defence Commission, without specifying when the nuclear test might take place.

But it said the test — which would follow detonations in 2006 and 2009 that were condemned around the world — would be part of an “upcoming all-out action” that marked a “new phase” in the country’s anti-U.S. struggle.

Reacting to the missive, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “North Korea’s statement is needlessly provocative.” He added a nuclear test would be a significant violation of U.N. sanctions and would further isolate Pyongyang.

While North Korea did not elaborate on the meaning of “high-level”, some experts have predicted that the country’s next test might be of a uranium bomb, rather than the plutonium devices it detonated on the two previous occasions.Such a development would indicate it had mastered the sophisticated technology needed to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU).

While declining to name North Korea, China’s foreign ministry said “all relevant parties” with a stake in the Korean peninsula should “refrain from action that might escalate the situation in the region”.South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman voiced deep regret over the test threat and urged Pyongyang to heed the "constant warnings" against further provocative acts. — AP