North stokes global fury with nuke test
SEOUL (AFP) – A defiant North Korea on Tuesday staged its most powerful nuclear test yet and warned of “stronger” action to follow if the ensuing wave of global condemnation translated into tougher sanctions.
Global powers, including Pyongyang’s sole major ally China, denounced the test which the North said was of a “miniaturised” device – a claim that will fuel concerns it has moved closer to fitting a warhead on a ballistic missile.
The isolated state said its third test, after previous detonations in 2006 and 2009 that triggered a raft of UN sanctions, was a direct riposte to US “hostility”.
In what amounted to a pre-emptive warning, North Korea’s foreign ministry said Tuesday’s test was only a “first” step and that any tightening of sanctions would trigger “even stronger second or third rounds of action”.
South Korea’s spy agency predicted the North might carry out another nuclear test or ballistic missile launch in coming days or weeks.
Confirmation of the test from the North’s state media came nearly three hours after seismic monitors detected an unusual tremor at 0257 GMT in the area of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the northeast.
Analysts said the timing appeared to be an attention-grabbing calculation from a state well versed in provocative acts, coming just ahead of US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address at the start of his second term.
Obama denounced the test and called for a “swift” and “credible” international response.
China, whose trade and aid are a life-support to impoverished North Korea, expressed “firm opposition” to the nuclear test but stopped short of threatening any punitive action.
The foreign ministry in Beijing appealed for calm from “all parties” and said the situation should be resolved through dialogue.
China’s leverage over Pyongyang is limited, observers say, by its fear of a North Korean collapse and the prospect of a reunified, US-allied Korea directly on its border.
Neighbours Japan and South Korea stressed the threat to their own national security, while Russia, NATO and the European Union all condemned the test as illegal and a flagrant violation of UN resolutions.
It was the North’s first nuclear test since its new, youthful leader Kim Jong-Un took over from his late father Kim Jong-Il.
Security analysts said it sent an unequivocal message of intent on the back of a successful long-range rocket launch in December.
On a technical level, experts will be hungry to know if North Korea has switched from plutonium to a new and self-sustaining nuclear weaponisation programme using uranium.
The KCNA statement did not specify what fissile material was used, but noted that the test’s success had provided the North with a “diversified” nuclear deterrent.
Tuesday’s explosion had a yield of six to seven kilotons, said South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok, significantly more than the 2006 and 2009 tests which both used plutonium.