North Korea's Nuclear Test
October 9th, 2006: North Korea conducts underground nuclear test in Hamkyung province.


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Pyongyang defies UN warning Seismic wave detected by S. Koreans

BURT HERMAN - ASSOCIATED PRESS - October 9th, 2006.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea faced global condemnation and calls for harsh sanctions Monday after it announced that it had set off an atomic weapon underground, a test that thrusts the secretive communist state into the elite club of nuclear-armed nations.

The United States, Japan, China and Britain led a chorus of criticism and urged action by the United Nations Security Council in response to the reported test, which fell one day after the anniversary of reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s accession to power nine years ago.

President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to take “decisive action” against North Korea at the U.N. Security Council, which was to meet later Monday in New York. Bush also spoke with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Russian President Vladimir Putin about North Korea, according to officials. The Kremlin said Washington and Moscow agreed on the need for a coordinated response.

The Security Council had warned North Korea just two days earlier not to go through with any test, and the Pyongyang government’s defiance was likely to lead to calls for stronger sanctions against the impoverished and already isolated country.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the U.S. government had not confirmed whether the North’s claims of an underground nuclear test are true. But he said “a test would constitute a provocative act in defiance of the will of the international community and of our call to refrain from actions that would aggravate tensions in Northeast Asia.’’

A U.S. government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the situation, said the seismic event could have been a nuclear explosion, but its small size was making it difficult for authorities to pin down.

South Korea’s spy chief said there were possible indications the North was moving to conduct more tests.

The current members of the nuclear club are the United States, Russia, Britain, France, India, Pakistan and China. Israel is widely believed to have the bomb but has not publicly declared.

There were conflicting reports about the size of the explosion.

South Korea’s geological institute estimated the force of the explosion to be equivalent to 550 tons of TNT, far smaller than the two nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan in World War II. France’s atomic energy commission similarly estimated the blast measured about 500 tons, but did not confirm it was caused by a nuclear device.

But Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said it was far more powerful, equivalent to 5,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT.

The head of South Korea’s spy agency said the blast was equal to less than 1,000 tons of TNT, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. National Intelligence Service chief Kim Seung-kyu also told lawmakers there were signs of suspicious movement at another suspected test site, Yonhap said.

Japan dispatched three aircraft to waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula to monitor radiation levels, the Defense Agency said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said it recorded a magnitude-4.2 seismic event in northeastern North Korea. Asian neighbors also said they registered a seismic event, and an official of South Korea’s monitoring center said the 3.6 magnitude tremor wasn’t a natural occurrence.

Nuclear blasts give off clear seismic signatures that differentiate them from other explosions, said Friedrich Steinhaeusler, a professor of physics at Salzburg University. Even if the bomb the North Koreans detonated was small, sensors in South Korea would likely be close enough to categorize the explosion as nuclear, he said.

“I think we have to take them at their word. They’re not the type of regime to bluff,” said Peter Beck, Seoul-based analyst for conflict resolution think tank International Crisis Group.

Only Russia said the blast was a nuclear explosion but the reaction of world governments reflected little doubt that they were treating the announcement as fact.

“It is 100 percent (certain) that it was an underground nuclear explosion,” said Lt. Gen. Vladimir Verkhovtsev, head of a Defense Ministry department, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Although North Korea has long claimed it had the capability to produce a bomb, the test was the first manifest proof of its membership in a small club of nuclear-armed nations. A nuclear armed North Korea would dramatically alter the strategic balance of power in the Pacific region and would tend to undermine already fraying global anti-proliferation efforts.

“The development and possession of Nuclear weapons by North Korea will in a major way transform the security environment in North Asia and we will be entering a new, dangerous nuclear age,’’ Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a news conference in Seoul after a summit with the South Korean leader.

Abe, facing his first major foreign policy test since his recent election, called for a “calm yet stern response. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso warned such a test would “severely endanger not only Northeast Asia but also the world stability.’’

South Korea said it had put its military on high alert, but said it noticed no unusual activity among North Korea’s troops.

China, the North’s closest ally and the impoverished nation’s main source of food, expressed its “resolute opposition” to the reported test and urged the North to return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks. It said the North “defied the universal opposition of international society and flagrantly conducted the nuclear test.’’

Putin told his Cabinet that Moscow “certainly condemns the test conducted by North Korea.’’

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the test was a ``completely irresponsible act,” and its Foreign Ministry warned of international repercussions.

The North has refused for a year to attend six-party international talks aimed at persuading it to disarm. It pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 after U.S. officials accused it of a secret nuclear program, allegedly violating an earlier nuclear pact between Washington and Pyongyang.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the test was successful, with no leak of radiation.

North Korean scientists “successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions,” the government-controlled agency said, adding this was “a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation.’’

“It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the ... people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability,” KCNA said. “It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it.’’

South Korea said the test was conducted at 10:36 a.m. (9:36 p.m. EDT Sunday) in Hwaderi near Kilju city on the northeast coast. South Korean intelligence officials said the seismic wave had been detected in North Hamkyung province, the agency said.

No increase in radiation levels was detected in Russia’s Primorye territory, which borders North Korea, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted regional meteorological service spokesman Sergei Slobodchikov as saying. Vladivostok, a large port city on Russia’s Pacific Coast, is about 60 miles from the border with North Korea.

Roh convened a meeting of security advisers over the test, Yonhap reported. The Japanese government set up a task force in response, Kyodo news agency said.

A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in July after a series of North Korean missile launches imposed limited sanctions on North Korea and demanded that the reclusive communist nation suspend its ballistic missile program — a demand the North immediately rejected.

The resolution bans all U.N. member states from selling material or technology for missiles or weapons of mass destruction to North Korea — and it bans all countries from receiving missiles, banned weapons or technology from Pyongyang.

The North is believed to have enough radioactive material for about a half-dozen bombs. It insists its nuclear program is necessary to deter a U.S. invasion.

The North has active missile programs, but it isn’t believed to have an atomic bomb design small and light enough to be mounted on a long-range rocket that could strike targets as far as the U.S.

Speculation over a possible North Korean test arose earlier this year after U.S. and Japanese reports cited suspicious activity at a suspected underground test site.

South Korean stocks plunged Monday following North Korea’s announcement of the test. The South Korean won also fell sharply. The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, fell as low as 1,303.62, or 3.6 percent.

Markets in South Korea, the world’s 10th-largest economy, have long been considered vulnerable to potential geopolitical risks from the North. The two countries, which fought the 1950-53 Korean War, are divided by the world’s most heavily armed border.

The conflict ended in a cease-fire that has yet to be replaced with peace treaty, are divided by the world’s most heavily armed border. However, they have made unprecedented strides toward reconciliation since their leaders met at their first-and-only summit in 2000.

The South had planned to ship 4,000 tons of cement to the North on Tuesday as emergency relief following massive flooding, but decided to delay it, Yonhap reported, quoting an unidentified Unification Ministry official.

South Korea had said the one-time aid shipment was separate from its regular humanitarian aid to the North, which it halted after Pyongyang’s missile launches in July.

Impoverished and isolated North Korea has relied on foreign aid to feed its 23 million people since its state-run farming system collapsed in the 1990s following decades of mismanagement and the loss of Soviet subsidies.



Is North Korea capable of building a workable bomb?

October 9th, 2006.

Some facts about North Korea's nuclear program:

The facility: Centred at Yongbyon, about 100 km north of Pyongyang.

The complex consists of a five-megawatt reactor and a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material would be extracted from spent fuel rods.

Extracting Fissile Material: Experts and intelligence reports indicated North Korea had extracted enough fissile material from Yongbyon to produce one or two nuclear weapons by the early 1990s.

Escalation: In October 2003, North Korea said it had enhanced its nuclear deterrent by reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods from Yongbyon. U.S. intelligence experts said the North could extract enough fissile material from those rods for another four to six weapons.

In February 2005, North Korea declared for the first time it had nuclear weapons.

In May 2005, North Korea said it had extracted more fuel rods from Yongbyon. Proliferation experts said this could eventually provide enough material for another two or three atomic bombs.

The tally: A conservative estimate would be that North Korea has enough fissile material for at least six to eight nuclear weapons, proliferation experts have said, with some saying it could have enough for more than a dozen nuclear weapons.

Delivering a weapon: It is impossible to say whether North Korea has built a workable nuclear weapon. Experts said the country has conducted many tests on nuclear-bomb-related technologies.

The North has an extensive missile program but no one is sure if it can make a nuclear weapon small enough to mount on a warhead.

The North test-fired seven missiles July 5, including its long-range Taepodong-2 with a range some experts said could one day reach U.S. territory.

Sources: Center for Nonproliferation Studies, intelligence reports, Reuters News Agency.


How should the world handle North Korea?

October 9th, 2006.

Edited version of an editorial in the Los Angeles Times Thursday:

If there is anything more unclear than what North Korea is up to, it is what the rest of the world should do about it. The reclusive nation announced last week that it intends to test a nuclear weapon. Even as diplomats raised doubts about its ability to carry out such a test, they were warning North Korea not to try.

That's a sensible if unsatisfying response to the latest provocation by the Stalinist nation, which tested a long-range missile in July (it failed about 40 seconds into its flight) and last year abandoned negotiations with the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea over its nuclear program.

But if the North Koreans do conduct a nuclear test, the world will need to have a better response at the ready. Part of the difficulty, however, is knowing what the truth is. So little is known about Pyongyang's program — the North Koreans kicked out international inspectors in 2002 — that the threat is just plausible enough to be worrisome.

Satellite monitoring reportedly shows increased activity around possible test sites, but there has been increased activity in the past. And because North Korea has never conducted a nuclear test, it's hard for analysts to know exactly what to look for. There is also the possibility, always present with the North Koreans, that they are simply bluffing to gain negotiating leverage.

Diplomatically, the answers are no easier. The U.S., China, South Korea, Russia and Japan have always agreed on a core principle: They don't want nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. Beyond that, however, the consensus has shown signs of strain.

The present (if not quite clear) danger is not just that North Korea could test a nuclear weapon, upsetting the delicate balance of the region and offering hope to prospective terrorist clients around the world. It's also that the diplomatic response will devolve into the usual manoeuvring.

That can't be allowed to happen. Diplomacy is rarely satisfying, especially as the stakes get higher — and nuclear diplomacy is the art of choosing among least-bad options (as the Bush administration is finding in Iran). A certain amount of posturing is inevitable. Even if they don't really mean it, nuclear nations have to say they will do everything they can to prevent another nation from gaining nuclear weapons — because once another nation has them, there is very little they can do about it. The challenge now for the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia is as simple as it is difficult: to convince North Korea that they really mean what they say.


North Korea's nuclear test threat raises alarm; Rice calls announcement `very provocative act'; Pyongyang provides no time frame for launch

BO-MI LIM AND CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA - ASSOCIATED PRESS - October 4th, 2006.

SEOUL—North Korea triggered global alarm yesterday by saying it will conduct a nuclear test, a key step in the manufacture of atomic bombs that it views as a deterrent against any U.S. attack.

But the North also said it was committed to nuclear disarmament, suggesting a willingness to negotiate.

The contradictory statement fits a North Korean pattern of ratcheting up tension on the Korean Peninsula, a Cold War-era flashpoint, in an attempt to win concessions such as economic aid. The strategy has had mixed results in recent years as the totalitarian regime sinks deeper into isolation and poverty, with China serving as its lifeline for food and fuel.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called North Korea's announcement "a very provocative act." It came as the standoff deepened over Iran's nuclear program, with senior United Nations diplomats saying six world powers would begin negotiations Friday in London on possibly imposing sanctions against Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

It was the first time North Korea had publicly announced its intent to conduct a nuclear test. Previously, it had warned that it might conduct a test, depending on U.S. actions.

"The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel (North Korea) to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a self-defence measure in response," said a statement by the North's foreign ministry.

Yet it said it wanted to "settle hostile relations" between the North and the U.S., and "will do its utmost to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula."

Many North Korea watchers believe the country's dictator, Kim Jong-il, knows that all-out confrontation with the U.S. would lead to his destruction. Even if Kim seeks negotiations, though, the risk of a miscalculation that spirals out of control cannot be ruled out.

The North Korean statement did not say when a nuclear test might occur, but the prospect drew rebukes from Japan, South Korea and the United States.

The announcement was not a big surprise to many observers of North Korea because U.S. intelligence reports previously had indicated Pyongyang might be preparing a nuclear test. Many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least half a dozen or more nuclear weapons.

In Cairo, Rice said the U.S. would have to assess its options if the North carries out the test, without detailing what those options were. She stressed, however, that a North Korean test was an issue "for the neighbourhood" and not just for the U.S.

Japan's foreign minister, Taro Aso, called the test plans "totally unforgivable," and said Japan would react "sternly" if the North conducted the tests, according to Kyodo News agency.

Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, the clear favourite to become the next UN secretary general, vowed yesterday to pursue crucial reforms of the world body if elected and to seek a peaceful resolution to North Korea's nuclear standoff.


Diplomats call talks with Iran `a failure' as UN atomic sanctions loom

Associated Press

NEW YORK— Iran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment has sabotaged talks meant to defuse the standoff over its nuclear program, opening the way for the UN Security Council to start considering sanctions next week, diplomats said yesterday.

The senior diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agreement not to publicly pronounce the talks dead before a final attempt by European Union envoy Javier Solana and Ali Larijani, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, to bridge differences in a phone call scheduled for today.

But with both sides standing firm, "the talks are considered a failure," even in key European capitals that had favoured negotiations over UN sanctions, said one of the diplomats.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told the Associated Press "it's only a very short time before we'll be seeking sanctions," unless Iran complies with demands to suspend enrichment. He added "there is not a single sign that they're prepared to give up" the activity, which can be used to make fissile material to arm nuclear warheads.


Nuclear test for 'defence,' says North Korea

ASSOCIATED PRESS - October 3rd, 2006.

SEOUL— North Korea said Tuesday it will conduct a nuclear test as part of measures to bolster its self-defence amid what it calls increasing U.S. hostility toward the communist regime.

"The DPRK will in the future conduct a nuclear test under the condition where safety is firmly guaranteed," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, using its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The statement gave no precise date as to when a test might occur.

Pyongyang has said it has nuclear weapons, but has not conducted any known test to prove its claim.

"The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a corresponding measure for defence," said the statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The North's "nuclear weapons will serve as reliable war deterrent for protecting the supreme interests of the state and the security of the Korean nation from the U.S. threat of aggression and averting a new war and firmly safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean peninsula under any circumstances," the statement said.

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