North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the nuclear test had greater explosive force and utilized a smaller, lighter device. The previous nuclear detonations took place in North Korea in 2006 and 2009.
“The test was carried out as part of practical measures of counteraction to defend the country’s security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S.,” the report said.
Following the launch of a long-range rocket in December, North Korea’s claim has raised concerns, as it provides evidence that the country is a step closer to fitting a nuclear warhead onto a ballistic missile.
The confirmation from state news agency KCNA came nearly three hours after seismic monitors detected an unusual tremor at 0257 GMT in the area of the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, close to the Chinese border.
Coming just ahead of President Obama’s State of the Union address at the start of his second term, analysts believe that the timing was calculated by the North Koreans to draw attention to its nuclear ambitions, according to an AFP report.
Calling for a “swift” and “credible” international response, President Obama denounced the test and the United Nations Security Council was expected to debate new measures during its meeting Tuesday in New York.
According to the White House’s official statement, President Obama said: “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region. These provocations do not make North Korea more secure. Far from achieving its stated goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, North Korea has instead increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”
Other countries such as Russia condemned the test, while Japan viewed it as a “grave threat” to its own security. Also on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry joined the international choir of condemnations of North Korea by saying that the tests posed a serious threat to regional stability as well as international security. “These programs reflect the negative role of North Korea in the region and raise serious concerns about the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“North Korea’s activities are in violation of its international commitments, and the international community must respond to this quickly. A clear message must be sent to North Korea and other countries, that such actions are unacceptable and that we will not show restraint in regards to them.”
China, who conducts trade with North Korea and serves as an economic life support to the destitute country expressed “firm opposition” to the nuclear test and took note of the fact that it came “despite widespread opposition from the international community”.
We strongly urge the DPRK (North Korea) to honor its commitment to denuclearization, and not to take any actions which might worsen the situation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
According to a DEBKA File report, there is full awareness in Washington and Jerusalem that the North Korean nuclear test brings Iran that much closer to conducting a test of its own. A completed bomb or warhead are not necessary for an underground nuclear test; a device which an aircraft or missile can carry is enough.
Since the detonation of what analysts call the “miniature atomic bomb” on Tuesday – Iran must be presumed to have acquired the same “miniature atomic bomb” capabilities – or even assisted in the detonation.
In the last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced that his country will soon place a satellite in orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers – and Tehran’s claim on February 4 to have sent a monkey into space – highlight Iran’s role in the division of labor Pyongyang and Tehran have achieved in years of collaboration: the former focusing on a nuclear armament and the latter on long-range missile technology to deliver it.
Their advances are pooled. Pyongyang maintains a permanent mission of nuclear and missile scientists in Tehran, whereas Iranian experts are in regular attendance at North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, the United States was informed by North Korea of its intention to test a nuclear device, but that they did not know exactly when the test would be carried out.
“The DPRK did inform us at the State Department of their intention to conduct a nuclear test, without citing any specific timing,” she said.
While the United States and its allies will exhort China to steadfastly maintain existing sanctions on its ally, China’s leverage is limited because of its fear of a possible North Korean collapse and the prospect of a reunified, US-allied Korea directly on its border, according to analysts.
Also on Tuesday, President Obama spoke with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, after North Korea’s nuclear missile test.
Obama promised to work together with the UN Security Council to address the nuclear threat from North Korea.
“The presidents agreed to work closely to formulate a series of measures that would impede the nuclear program and missiles of North Korea and reduce the risk of armament,” the White House said in a statement.
It was the North’s first nuclear test since its new leader, Kim Jong-Un took over from his father, Kim Jong-Il. “The launch and the test are empirical evidence that Kim and his regime have no intention of negotiating away the North’s nuclear program any time soon,” said Paul Carroll, program director at the US-based Ploughshares Fund, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, experts are speculating as to whether North Korea has switched from plutonium to a new and self-sustaining nuclear program using uranium. The KCNA statement did not specify what fissile material was used, but noted that the test’s success had provided North Korea with a “diversified” nuclear deterrent.
North Korea has substantial deposits of uranium ore and it is much easier to secretly enrich uranium, which can be done in centrifuges, rather than the nuclear reactor required for plutonium enrichment.
South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told reporters that Tuesday’s explosion had a yield of six to seven kilotons, significantly more than the 2006 and 2009 tests, which both used plutonium.
The explosive yield compared with 15 kilotons in the world’s first atomic bomb dropped by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.
North Korea’s first test yielded less than one kiloton and was widely seen as a dud while the second test reportedly yielded between two and six kilotons.
The third test throws down a stark security and diplomatic challenge to Obama as well as to new Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Paik Hak-Soon, a North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said Kim Jong-Un was intent on triggering a crisis that would force the international community to negotiate on his terms.
“The UN is running out of options and probably knows new sanctions would only have a limited impact,” Paik said, as quoted by AFP.
“The only real option for curbing further provocation is starting a dialogue with the North, but that will be very difficult given the domestic political pressure on leaders in the US, South Korea and Japan,” Paik added.
Ahead of the UN Security Council emergency session on Tuesday, Kim Jong Un’s government warned of “stronger actions” after the nuclear test. Its diplomat warned the UN disarmament forum that his country will “never bow to any resolutions.”
Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, observed via e-mail: “This was intended as a threat and a challenge by North Korea. The world’s most dangerous despots will be eagerly awaiting the American response.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) issued a statement that read in part: “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 through stringent sanctions that tackle its illicit activities and cuts off its flow of hard currency. Otherwise, the grave North Korean threat to the region and the United States will only grow.”