“North Korea will not find security and respect through
threats and illegal weapons,” Mr. Obama said Monday morning.
North Korea claimed it carried out a powerful underground
nuclear test — much larger than its 2006 nuclear test — in a major
provocation in the escalating international standoff over its rogue nuclear and
The regime “successfully conducted one more underground
nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for
self-defense,” the country’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed an atomic explosion at
9:54 a.m. local time in northeastern North Korea, estimating the blast’s yield
at 10 to 20 kilotons — comparable to the U.S. bombs that devastated Hiroshima
and Nagasaki at the close of World War II.
But the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Organization contested the Russian measurements, saying the magnitude of the
latest test was “slightly higher than in 2006, measuring 4.52 on the
Richter scale, while in 2006 it was 4.1.”
Raising tensions further, North Korea test-fired three
short-range, ground-to-air missiles hours later, the South Korean Yonhap news
agency reported, citing unnamed sources. U.N. Security Council resolutions bar
North Korea engaging in any ballistic missile-related activity.
“I sincerely hope that the Security Council will take
necessary corresponding measures,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told
the Associated Press, declining to say what specific actions he would urge the
15-nation council members to take.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled emergency consultations
on North Korea’s actions for Monday afternoon.
Even North Korea’s traditional ally, China, issued rare
criticism with the Foreign Ministry saying in a statement posted on its Web
site that Beijing was “resolutely opposed” to the test. But analysts
said Beijing was unlikely to back stronger sanctions as part of a new U.N.
Security Council resolution, for fear that North Korea might collapse,
releasing a flood of refugees across its border.
North Korea’s defiance raises the stakes in the standoff
over its nuclear ambitions – a continuing problem for U.S. administrations,
dating back to the Clinton administration. Former President George W. Bush
labeled North Korea as a country that was part of an international “axis
of evil,” but the United States later removed Pyongyang from its list of
official state sponsors of terrorism when it shut down a nuclear installation
late in the Bush administration.
The question now is calculating precisely the nature of a
threat and what are options are available to the Obama administration.
Officials told the Associated Press that Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton was “engaged in intensive diplomacy” on the issue.
North Korea is already so isolated from other nations that there
is little left with which to punish its autocratic government that has been
ready to take dealings with the outside world to the brink. Its leaders
repeatedly stress the threat from the United States to justify heavy military spending
that keeps them in power but has led to deepening poverty, and at times famine,
for many of its 23 million people.
North Korea had agreed in February 2007 to a six-nation pact
to begin disabling its main nuclear reactor in exchange for 1 million tons of
fuel oil and other concessions. But Pyongyang abruptly halted the process last
summer over a dispute with Washington over how to verify its 18,000-page list
of past atomic activities.
In the past two months, Pyongyang has launched a rocket
despite international calls for restraint; abandoned international nuclear
negotiations; restarted its nuclear plants; and warned it would carry out the
atomic test as well as long-range missile tests.
Monday’s atomic test was conducted about 50 miles northwest
of the northern city of Kilju, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Alexander
Drobyshevsky said, speaking on state-run Rossiya television.
Kilju is where North Korea conducted its first nuclear test
in October 2006 in a surprise move that also angered China and drew
wide-ranging sanctions from the Security Council.
Areas neighboring the region reported some eye-witness
testimony of the test. An emergency siren sounded in the Chinese border city of
Yanji, 130 miles to the northwest and a receptionist at Yanji’s International
Hotel said she and several hotel guests felt the ground tremble.
Russian officials reported that radiation levels in its
Primorye region, which shares a short border with North Korea, were normal Monday
several hours after the blast.
A spokeswoman at Japan’s Defense Ministry said that Japan
was preparing to fly aircraft as early as Monday to collect dust in the air in
order to measure radiation levels.
The reported test-firing of short-range missiles took place
at the Musudan-ri launchpad on North Korea’s northeast coast, some 30 miles
from the nuclear test site, Yonhap said.
Japan’s coast guard said Friday that North Korea warned
ships to avoid waters off the coast near the launch site, suggesting Pyongyang
was preparing for a missile test.
Pyongyang is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium
for at least a half-dozen atomic bombs. However, experts say scientists have
not yet mastered the miniaturization needed to mount a nuclear device onto a long-range
The ten to 20 kiloton explosion, if true, would be far
larger than North Korea managed in 2006. U.S. intelligence officials said the
2006 test measured less than a kiloton; 1 kiloton is equal to the force
produced by 1,000 tons of TNT. However, Russia estimated the force of the 2006
blast at 5 to 15 kilotons, far higher than other estimates at the time.
The CTBTO, the world’s independent body for monitoring
possible breaches of the test ban, has collected data from 39 seismic stations
around the world and is awaiting detail on possible radioactive particles and
noble gases. New stations close to the DPRK, in China, Japan and Russia had
helped speed up readings and make them more precise, the CTBTO said.
The rise in tensions comes amid questions about who will
succeed impoverished country’s authoritarian leader, 67-year-old Kim Jong-Il, who
is believed to have suffered a stroke last August. The test comes as
speculation has mounted that he wants to strengthen an already iron grip on
power so he can better ensure he is succeeded by one of his three sons.
North Korea is also holding two American journalists in
custody. They are accused of entering the country illegally and engaging in
“hostile acts.” They are set to stand trial starting June 4.
Earlier this year, North Korea rejected a plan for
additional U.S. food assistance and kicked out five groups distributing
American aid in the country.