North Korea on Tuesday conducted its third and most powerful nuclear test in
defiance of UN resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the
Pyongyang’s only major ally, China, summoned the North Korean
ambassador in protest.
The North said the test was an act of self-defense
against “US hostility” and threatened stronger steps if necessary.
test put pressure on US President Barack Obama on the day of his State of the
Union speech and also put China in a tight spot, since the move defies Beijing’s
admonishments to North Korea to avoid escalating tensions.
emergency hour-long meeting at the UN in New York, the Security Council agreed
to condemn North Korea’s test, with some members calling for an actionable
response in the coming days.
The statement, prepared by South Korea,
reminded the council of the language it had used just last month, warning the
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea against committing any further incitement
after a series of successful ballistic missile tests.
“When the council
responded to the last DPRK provocation and violation of its obligations, we said
and the council said that it was clearly committed, in Resolution 2087, to take,
and I quote, ‘significant action’ in the event of any further launch using
ballistic missile technology or another nuclear test,” US Ambassador Susan Rice
said. “And indeed, we will do so.”
Rice warned that the test “increases
the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” and “threatens the
security of a number of countries, including the United
Jerusalem’s Foreign Ministry came out with a strongly worded
condemnation in similar terms.
Despite Rice’s public statement, she
appeared flippant as she entered the council meeting, telling journalists that
she expected “the usual drill” from the closed-door consultations.
Ambassador Gérard Araud said he hoped for more than just a statement. But
expectations were generally low; Russia’s ambassador remained coy in his
remarks, and China’s position on a formal Security Council resolution, which is
considered legally actionable, remained unclear.
“Condemnations from the
UN are utterly useless at this point,” said Michael Auslin, an expert on Asian security issues at the American Enterprise Institute. “We
know from the past that China has allowed contraband materials to pass through
its territory, so it may now be past the stage where they allow that.
the question now is how to contain the program, because the horse has left the
He added that “there’s no question that once they have a certain
technology developed, they’ll sell it, because that’s what they always
The crisis meeting came on the same day the Security Council was set
to review Resolution 1737, which imposed sanctions on Iran nearly seven years
ago for its enrichment of uranium.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the
third of his line to rule the country, has presided over two long-range rocket
launches and a nuclear test during his first year in power.
said the test had “greater explosive force” than those it had conducted in 2006
and 2009. Its KCNA news agency said it had used a “miniaturized” and lighter
nuclear device, indicating it had again used plutonium, which is suitable for
use as a missile warhead.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said his
country was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the test and urged
North Korea to “stop any rhetoric or acts that could worsen situations and
return to the right course of dialogue and consultation as soon as
The Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said Jerusalem “joins
the international community in expressing the grave danger that this act poses
to regional stability and international peace and security.”
Pyongyang’s actions, which violated its international obligations, “must be met
with a swift response by the international community.”
In an obvious
reference to Iran, the statement said “a clear message must be sent to the DPRK
and to other countries, that such activities are unacceptable and cannot be
The statement added that the nuclear test, together with
North Korea’s missile launch in December, was part of the country’s “extensive
ongoing nuclear and missile programs.
These reflect North Korea’s
negative role in the region and raise grave concerns regarding proliferation of
nuclear and ballistic technologies.”
Obama strongly condemned North
Korea’s nuclear test in the sharply worded statement he released soon after it
“This is a highly provocative act,” he said, charging that it
undermined regional stability, violated North Korean UN obligations and
contravened its commitments under ongoing talks with world powers.
Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to US
national security and to international peace and security,” the US president
declared. “The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean
provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the
He added, “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening
activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international
However, he didn’t spell out what steps the US anticipated
US Secretary of State John Kerry worked the phones Tuesday to
coordinate with other regional powers to determine a course of
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that in calls
with his counterparts in South Korea, China and Japan, Kerry had “stressed the
need for a strong and quick response from the international [community] in order
to send a clear message to North Korea that violations of its obligations under
UN Security Council resolutions have consequences.”
Kerry also referenced
the US commitment to the security of allies South Korean and Japan, which
includes placing them under a nuclear umbrella.
He was still trying to
reach Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was traveling in South Africa,
North Korea had advised the US State Department of its
intention to test a nuclear device before Tuesday’s underground explosion, but
had not said when it would conduct the test, Nuland said.
“The DPRK did
inform us at the State Department of their intention to conduct a nuclear test,
without citing any specific timing,” she told reporters.
She said the
notice had come through the “usual channel,” but declined to say exactly when
Washington received the notification. This usually refers to an office in New
York where phone messages and faxes are exchanged between the two countries,
which do not have diplomatic relations.
Criticism of the North Korean
nuclear test also came from members of Congress, some of whom urged the Obama
administration to do more to curb Kim’s ambitions.
administration must replace its failed North Korea policy with one that is
energetic, creative and focused on crippling the Kim regime’s military
capabilities,” argued Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), chairman of the House
Foreign Affairs Committee.
He called for more stringent sanctions to cut
off illicit activities and the flow of hard currency.
grave North Korean threat to the region and the United States will only grow,”
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the test was “only the
first response we took with maximum restraint.”
In a statement carried by
the KCNA news agency, it said that “if the United States continues to come out
with hostility and complicates the situation, we will be forced to take
stronger, second and third responses in consecutive steps.”
often threatens the United States and its “puppet,” South Korea, with
destruction in colorful terms.
Pyongyang told the UN disarmament forum in
Geneva that it would never bow to resolutions on its nuclear program and that
prospects were “gloomy” for the denuclearization of the divided Korean peninsula
because of the “hostile” US policy.
Suzanne DiMaggio, an analyst at the
Asia Society in New York, said North Korea had embarrassed China with the
“China’s inability to dissuade North Korea from carrying through
with this third nuclear test reveals Beijing’s limited influence over
Pyongyang’s actions in unusually stark terms,” she said.
Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think
tank, “the test is hugely insulting to China, which now can be expected to
follow through with threats to impose sanctions.”
The magnitude of the
explosion was roughly twice that of the 2009 test, according to the Vienna-based
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization. The US Geological Survey
said that a seismic event measuring 5.1 magnitude had occurred.
intelligence agencies were analyzing the event and found that North Korea
probably conducted an underground nuclear explosion with a yield of
“approximately several kilotons,” the Office of the Director of National
Nuclear experts have described Pyongyang’s previous
two tests as puny by international standards. The yield of the 2006 test has
been estimated at less than 1 kiloton (1,000 tons of TNT equivalent) and the
second at some 2-7 kilotons, compared with 20 kilotons for a Nagasaki-type
North Korea trumpeted the announcement on its state television
channel to patriotic music against a backdrop of its national flag.
North’s ultimate aim, Washington believes, is to design an intercontinental
ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit the
United States. Pyongyang says the program is aimed at putting satellites in
Despite its three nuclear tests and long-range rocket tests, North
Korea is not believed to be close to manufacturing a nuclear missile capable of
hitting the US.
It used plutonium in previous nuclear tests, and before
Tuesday there had been speculation that it would use highly enriched uranium so
as to conserve its plutonium stocks, as testing eats into its limited supply of
the materials necessary to construct a nuclear bomb.
appeared to have been timed for the run-up to the February 16 anniversary
celebrations of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday, as well as to
achieve maximum international attention.
Reuters contributed to this
Michael Wilner reported from New York.