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North Korea conducts third controversial nuke test

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 12:27 p.m. MST

South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence near the demilitarized zone of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Defying U.N. warnings, North Korea on Tuesday conducted an underground nuclear test in the remote, snowy northeast, taking a crucial step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States.

Ahn Young-joon, Associated Press

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PYONGYANG, North Korea — Defying U.N. warnings, North Korea on Tuesday conducted its third nuclear test in the remote, snowy northeast, taking a crucial step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States.

North Korea said the atomic test was merely its "first response" to what it called U.S. threats, and said it will continue with unspecified "second and third measures of greater intensity" if Washington maintains its hostility.

The underground test, which set off powerful seismic waves, drew immediate condemnation from Washington, the U.N. and others. Even its only major ally, China, summoned the North's ambassador for a dressing-down.

President Barack Obama, who was scheduled to give a State of the Union address later Tuesday, said nuclear tests "do not make North Korea more secure." Instead, North Korea has "increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction," he said in a statement.

In an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council unanimously said the test poses "a clear threat to international peace and security" and pledged further action.

The test was a defiant North Korean response to U.N. orders that it shut down its atomic activity or face more sanctions and international isolation. It will likely draw more sanctions from the United States and other countries at a time when North Korea is trying to rebuild its moribund economy and expand its engagement with the outside world.

Several U.N. resolutions bar North Korea from conducting nuclear or missile tests because the Security Council considers Pyongyang a would-be proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its nuclear testing a threat to international peace and stability. North Korea dismisses that as a double standard, and claims the right to build nuclear weapons as a defense against the United States, which has been seen as enemy No. 1 since the 1950-53 Korean War. The U.S. stations more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect its ally.

Tuesday's test is North Korea's first since young leader Kim Jong Un took power of a country long estranged from the West. The test will likely be portrayed in North Korea as a strong move to defend the nation against foreign aggression, particularly from the U.S.

"The test was conducted in a safe and perfect way on a high level, with the use of a smaller and light A-bomb, unlike the previous ones, yet with great explosive power," North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said.

The U.N. Security Council recently punished North Korea for a rocket launch in December that the U.N. and Washington called a cover for a banned long-range missile test. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful launch of a satellite into space. In condemning that launch, the council demanded a stop to future launches and ordered North Korea to respect a ban on nuclear activity — or face "significant action" by the U.N.

China expressed firm opposition to Tuesday's test but called for a calm response by all sides. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned North Korea's ambassador and delivered a "stern representation" and demanded that North Korea "swiftly return to the correct channel of dialogue and negotiation," the ministry said in a statement.

The timing of the test is significant. It came hours before Obama's speech and only days before the Saturday birthday of Kim Jong Un's father, late leader Kim Jong Il, whose memory North Korean propaganda has repeatedly linked to the country's nuclear ambitions.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, and in late February South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye will be inaugurated.

In Pyongyang, where it was snowing Tuesday, North Koreans gathered around televisions to watch a 3 p.m. TV broadcast announcing the nuclear test.

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