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(photo credit: AP [file])
North Korea said Monday it has performed its first-ever nuclear weapons test, which would confirm that the country has a working atomic bomb as it has long claimed.
The country's official Korean Central News Agency said the underground test was performed successfully "with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent," and that no radioactive material leaked from that test site.
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"It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the (Korean People's Army) and 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."
The US Geological Survey confirmed that a magnitude 4.2 tremor occured at the time of the North Korea nuclear test and wasn't a natural occurrence. A South Korean seismic expert said the explosion, if it was one, was equivalent to 550 tons of TNT.
US administration officials said they believed a test had indeed been carried out. President George W. Bush was expected to deliver an announcement on the matter early Monday morning, followed by a longer statement later in the day.
The UN Security Council was expected to discuss a response to the North Korean test on Monday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test "absolutely unacceptable," Japan's Kyodo News agency said.
The comments came after the leader arrived in Seoul for a summit meeting, scheduled for later in the day, with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. Abe said his country would consider sanctions as a response to the test.
The North has refused for a year to attend international talks aimed at persuading it to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The country pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 after US officials accused it of a secret nuclear program, allegedly violating an earlier nuclear pact between Washington and Pyongyang.
Speculation over a possible North Korean test arose earlier this year after US and Japanese reports cited suspicious activity at a suspected underground test site.
The North is believed to have enough radioactive material for about a half-dozen bombs, using plutonium from its main nuclear reactor located at Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang. The North also 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 US.
The test came amid intense diplomatic efforts aimed at heading off the move.
Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, arrived Monday in Seoul for meetings with President Roh Moo-hyun that had been intended to address strains in relations between Japan and South Korea over territorial and historical disputes, but was overshadowed by news of the nuclear test.
"We must collect and analyze information to determine whether North Korea actually conducted the test," Abe told reporters upon his arrival.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was also expected later Monday to nominated as the next secretary-general of the United Nations by the Security Council. Ban had previously said he would use the post, which he would assume after Kofi Annan's term expires at the end of the year, to press for a resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff.
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