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News of North Korea’s Nuclear Test Stuns World Leaders

May 25, 2009 at 6:00 PM EST
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Ray Suarez reports on world leaders' reaction to news that North Korea has detonated a nuclear device underground.
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GWEN IFILL: North Korea defied world pressure today to carry out a large underground nuclear test. It brought swift criticism from the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, and the European Union.

Ray Suarez has our lead story report.

RAY SUAREZ: The announcement came via North Korean state television.

NORTH KOREAN NEWS ANCHOR (through translator): The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control. The results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons.

RAY SUAREZ: Officials in Russia said the test site was 50 miles northwest of Kilju, the same place as North Korea’s first test in 2006. And South Korean scientists confirmed strong seismic activity in that area today.

LEE DUK-KI, director, South Korea Earthquake Monitoring Department (through translator): On May 25, 2009, an earthquake, assumed to be manmade, occurred near Kilju around 9:54 a.m.

RAY SUAREZ: The North Korean program’s first test had been small, suggesting a partial failure, but the Russians said today’s explosion was comparable to the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

South Korea immediately convened a meeting of its national security council and put troops along the border on high alert.

In the middle of the night, Washington time, just hours after the news broke, President Obama released a statement condemning the North Korean test. And later in the morning, he voiced his displeasure out loud.

Obama condemns nuclear test

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world, and I strongly condemn their reckless action.

North Korea's actions endanger the people of Northeast Asia, they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea's own prior commitments.

We will work with our friends and allies to stand up to this behavior, and we will redouble our efforts toward a more robust international nonproliferation regime that all countries have responsibilities to meet.

RAY SUAREZ: The criticism also streamed in from U.S. allies around the world, especially in Japan.

TAKEO KAWAMURA, chief cabinet secretary, Japan (through translator): The North Korean nuclear test, along with the nation building up the capability of carrying devices of mass destruction by its long-range missile, poses a serious threat to Japan's peace and security, as well as to this region. We will not tolerate this.

RAY SUAREZ: The Russian government likewise condemned the test. And even China, North Korea's closest ally, was critical.

CHINESE NEWS ANCHOR (through translator): Despite international opposition, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has again conducted a nuclear test. The Chinese government thereby expresses absolute opposition towards this.

RAY SUAREZ: Traveling in Denmark, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the test would set back efforts to end North Korea's nuclear efforts.

Just a month ago, the U.N. Security Council imposed additional sanctions on North Korea after it tested a ballistic missile. And late today, the council expressed strong opposition to the nuclear test, but took no immediate action.