North Korea under fire over nuclear test
South Korean conservative protesters burn a North Korean flag during a rally demonstrating against North Koreas nuclear test in Seoul yesterday. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
The international community strongly condemned North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test yesterday, with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon calling it a deplorable act as the Security Council met to discuss further sanctions.
Early on Tuesday, North Korea detonated a nuclear device underground, which nuclear test monitors in Vienna said had twice the force of the last test in 2009. The device was smaller, which prompted fears that the North was edging closer to building a warhead small enough to arm a missile, which could eventually reach targets on US soil.
It is the first nuclear test in North Korea since Kim Jong-un took over the reins of power of the isolated, impoverished country, and largely demolishes any suggestions that he was considering a programme of opening up and reform.
The Security Council said it would begin work on measures against North Korea after UN chief Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, said the test was a “clear and grave violation”.
“It is deplorable that Pyongyang defied the strong and unequivocal call from the international community to refrain from any further provocative measures,” he said.
In January, the Security Council passed a resolution expanding existing UN sanctions against North Korea after it launched a long-range missile in December.
The council warned Pyongyang against further launches or nuclear tests. North Korea responded by threatening a new atomic detonation.
The North Koreans carried out the test on the same day as US president Barack Obama was due to give his State of the Union address, and much of the North Korean invective has been reserved for the US.
Pyongyang said the test was aimed at challenging “ferocious” hostility by the US, its “sworn enemy” that tried to undermine its peaceful efforts to launch satellites.
It has long maintained that the US is its prime target, and suggested that more developments could follow, threatening “even stronger” action.
Mr Obama said the North Korean test was “highly provocative” and that the threat from Pyongyang warranted “further swift and credible action by the international community”.
“The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies,” he said in a statement.
The prospect of links between Iran’s nuclear programme and North Korea’s is causing considerable anxiety in the West.
The Security Council looked likely to agree on issuing a condemnation of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme but talks on cranking up sanctions, including a raft of new punitive measures, will probably take weeks.
Calls for stricter sanctions are likely to face opposition from North Korea’s ally China, which has condemned the launch and called in North Korea’s ambassador in Beijing to file a protest. Beijing reluctantly backed sanctions in December but is unwilling to raise the pressure on North Korea.
The Chinese have urged the North Koreans to take part in long-stalled six-party talks involving both Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms programme. “Increasing military tensions in the region is extremely dangerous,” Mr Lavrov told a briefing in Pretoria.