PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea's vice foreign minister says it will conduct its next nuclear test whenever its supreme headquarters sees fit.
Vice Minister Han Song Ryol made the comments in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Pyongyang on Friday. He also said the situation on the Korean Peninsula was in a "vicious cycle" as tensions with the U.S. and its allies deepen.
Senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News that the U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that the North is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.
Outside experts say the North could conduct its sixth nuclear test at virtually anytime. Meanwhile, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the region and is conducting its biggest ever joint military exercises with South Korea.
"That is something that our headquarters decides," Han said as Pyongyang prepared for a local holiday and military parade. "At a time and at a place where the headquarters deems necessary, it will take place."
President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday that "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."
Han told AP that Pyongyang won't "keep its arms crossed" in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.
Many experts believe North Korea could have a viable nuclear warhead and a ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland within the next few years.
Han said the Trump administration is "more vicious and more aggressive" than that of President Obama.
"Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words," Han said. "It's not [North Korea] but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble."
He continued: "We've got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike. Whatever comes from the U.S., we will cope with it. We are fully prepared to handle it."