Outrage over N Korea nuclear test
There have been expressions of international outrage after North Korea said it had successfully carried out a underground nuclear test.
US President Barack Obama described the North Korean action as a “threat to international peace” and said international action was called for.
China and Russia also condemned the test, but called for a return to talks.
A number of external agencies confirmed an explosion, probably associated with a nuclear test, had taken place.
It appeared to be a much more powerful blast than North Korea’s first nuclear test, in October 2006.
An emergency session of the UN Security Council is being convened by Russia, which currently occupies the council’s rotating presidency.
BBC world affairs correspondent David Loyn says North Korea appears to have moved from a posture of negotiation to confrontation over the nuclear issue.
An official communique read out on North Korean state radio said another round of underground nuclear testing had been “successfully conducted… as part of measures to enhance the Republic’s self-defensive nuclear deterrent in all directions”.
It said the test had been “safely conducted at a new higher level in terms of explosive power and control technology”.
The test would “contribute to safeguard the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism”, the communique said.
The North gave no details of the test location, but South Korean officials said that a seismic tremor was detected in the north-eastern region around the town of Kilju – the site of North Korea’s first nuclear test.
Geological recordings of the tremor suggest it was much larger than the 2006 test. That was backed up by the Russian defence ministry, which detected a blast of up to 20 kilotons – comparable to the American bombs that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Just hours after the test, North Korea appeared to have test-fired two short-range missiles, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, but this was not confirmed.
In a strongly worded statement, President Obama said the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatened peace and was in “blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council”.
“The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants action by the international community. We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the six-party talks as well as other members of the UN Security Council in the days ahead,” his statement said.
A spokesman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the test was “a provocation that can never be tolerated”, while Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said any nuclear test by the North would be “unacceptable”.
Both said they would ask for action from the UN Security Council.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply disturbed” by reports of the test – which, if confirmed, he said would violate UN Security Council resolution 1718, which demands that North Korea refrain from nuclear testing.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he condemned the test “in the strongest terms” and said it would “undermine prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula”.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministries of North Korea’s closest allies, Russia and China, echoed the words of condemnation.
China said it was “resolutely opposed” to the test, while Russia called it “a blow to non-proliferation efforts”.
But both urged North Korea back to the negotiating table – with Russia saying six-party talks were the “only solution”.
Correspondents say both countries are fearful of the destabilising effect that military action or cutting off trade ties could have on their impoverished former protegee – with the spectre of millions of refugees pouring over their borders should the regime implode.
But with their shared policy of attempting to engage the North in dialogue having apparently failed, it is unclear what sway their approach will have when the UN Security Council meets later.
Last month, the UN Security Council adopted a statement calling on North Korea to comply with a 2006 resolution banning missile tests after it launched.
This was a weaker response than the full resolution sought by the US and Japan, due to resistance from Russia and China.
This time, correspondents say, they may be under pressure to back a stronger response.
The North says it remains under military threat from its historic rival, South Korea, and South Korea’s allies, primarily the US – citing such examples as the annual US-South Korean military exercises undertaken in South Korea.
It says it is entitled to retain a military deterrent.
Six-party disarmament talks involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas have stalled over Pyongyang’s failure to agree how information it has handed over on its nuclear activities and facilities should be verified.
Pyongyang pulled out of the talks last month, in protest against international condemnation of its rocket launch.
North Korea had previously agreed to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear facility as part of an aid-for-disarmament deal and, in response, the US removed North Korea from its terrorism blacklist.
But the North now believes it is no longer bound by its previous bilateral agreements with the US and agreements under the six-party talks, reports the BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul, South Korea.
He says the North, which already faces a stringent sanctions regime, probably thinks it has little to lose.