Israel, UNSC condemn North Korea nuclear test

Foreign Ministry says Pyongyang's defiance of UN resolutions raises "grave concerns" about proliferation of nuclear technologies.

New North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
New North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
North Korea on Tuesday conducted its third and most powerful nuclear test in defiance of UN resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world.
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.
The 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.
In an 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 States.”
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.
French 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.
But the question now is how to contain the program, because the horse has left the barn.”
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 do.”
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.
The North 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 possible.”
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.”
It said 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 tolerated.”
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 took place.
“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.
“North 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 region.”
He added, “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community.”
However, he didn’t spell out what steps the US anticipated taking.
US Secretary of State John Kerry worked the phones Tuesday to coordinate with other regional powers to determine a course of action.
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, added Nuland.
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.
“The Obama 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.
“Otherwise, the grave North Korean threat to the region and the United States will only grow,” he warned.
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.”
North Korea 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 test.
“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.
According to 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.
US 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 Intelligence said.
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 bomb.
North Korea trumpeted the announcement on its state television channel to patriotic music against a backdrop of its national flag.
The 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 space.
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.
Tuesday’s action 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 report.
Michael Wilner reported from New York.