- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

UPDATED:

SEOUL — The United States and other nations Monday strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear test but gave little indication of what they might do to restrain an isolated nation that appears determined to modernize its nuclear arsenal and may be in throes of a difficult political succession.

“By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community,” President Obama said in a statement. “North Korea’s behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said North Korea’s test — the second in three years — was evidence of “growing belligerence on the part of North Korea.”

Adm. Mullen, appearing on CBS’s “The Early Show,” said if Pyongyang continues to develop a nuclear weapons program it “poses a grave threat to the United States.”

The Korean Central New Agency, or KCNA, the North’s official mouthpiece, said Monday it had conducted an underground test to “bolster its nuclear deterrent for self defense.” It added that the explosion was more powerful than that registered in the previous October 2006 test.

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The announcement followed reports that U.S. and South Korean geological survey agencies had detected an earth tremor that registered 4.7 on the Richter scale in Northeast Korea. North Korea followed its nuclear test with the launch of a short-range missile off its East Coast at around midday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Japan, which is in missile range of North Korea, called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council later Monday to discuss how to deal with the test. North Korea responded furiously to a lukewarm condemnation of an April 5 ballistic missile test and there was little indication that the world body would be able to do more this time.

China, which holds veto power on the Security Council, joined the chorus of disapproval Monday, saying it “resolutely opposed” the test.

However, Jim Walsh, a Korea specialist at MIT, said China “doesn’t want to squeeze the egg when it may be already cracked and there may be a transition afoot” in North Korea from the leadership of Kim Jong Il, who suffered a stroke last year, and members of his family backed by North Korea’s powerful military.

“The military members of the [North Korean] national defense committee are exerting themselves,” he said.

Mr. Walsh said it would be key for the United States to reassure Japan that it remains under U.S. nuclear protection so that the Japanese would not be tempted to test a nuclear weapon as well.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso called the North Korea test an “unacceptable” violation of previous U.N. resolutions.

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