World powers condemn North Korean nuke test

  • Article by: ANNE GEARAN
  • Washington Post
  • February 12, 2013 - 8:49 PM

The North Korean underground nuclear test confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies Tuesday served as a stark reminder that the unpredictable and largely inscrutable government remains a wild card for President Obama's second term -- a nuclear threat to U.S. allies in Asia and a potential arms merchant to the highest bidder.

The timing of the nuclear test was interpreted in Washington as an attempt by North Korea's young new leader to upstage Obama before his State of the Union address. And the claim that it involved a smaller, lighter device -- an important element of any deliverable weapon -- suggested that the demonstration could be the most dangerous yet by Pyongyang.

Obama called the nuclear test, North Korea's third, a "highly provocative act" that undermines stability in Asia and fails to strengthen North Korea's own security.

"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region," the president said in an unusual predawn statement.

Short of a threat of military action, the United States and the U.N. Security Council, which also strongly condemned the test Tuesday, have little leverage over North Korea. Stringent economic sanctions have not halted the North's nuclear development or alleged proliferation.

Diplomatically and economically isolated from all but its patron and neighbor China, the military-backed dictatorship in the North and its leader, Kim Jong Un, have rebuffed all recent U.S. efforts to negotiate over its nuclear program.

After an emergency session Tuesday, the Security Council branded the nuclear detonation a "grave threat" to world peace and pledged to immediately seek additional binding sanctions against Pyongyang. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, also denounced North Korea as the only nation to carry out a nuclear test in the 21st century.

The statement by the 15-nation council set the stage for another high-level U.S.-led effort to persuade veto-holding China to support tougher sanctions. China issued a statement reiterating its call that North Korea not take "any further actions that would worsen the situation" and cautioning Western powers not to overreact.

A key question was whether North Korea had exploded a plutonium bomb, as it apparently did in 2006 and 2009, or had acquired the capability to make a device using highly enriched uranium. Enriched uranium poses a bigger risk for proliferation, because cash-strapped Pyongyang could be tempted to share the fuel with enemies of the West.

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