North Korea threatened to conduct a nuclear weapons test to derail “hostile” U.S. policies, after the Obama administration pushed through United Nations sanctions against the totalitarian state for a rocket launch last month.
Calling the U.S. “the sworn enemy of the Korean people,” the National Defense Commission said it will launch “a variety of satellites and long-range rockets” and carry out “a nuclear test of higher level,” according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The UN Security Council imposed additional restrictions on North Korea on Jan. 22, prompting a vow from the regime to expand its nuclear capability. Leader Kim Jong Un has worked to bolster his legitimacy since inheriting his position from his late father in December 2011 by continuing a military-first policy while seeking to boost an impoverished economy.
“North Korea has unfortunately resorted to their classic play of brinkmanship,” said Huh Moon Young, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “In this totalitarian regime, the dictatorship is maintained not through winning the hearts of the impoverished public with money, but with consolidation through a show of military might.”
South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index extended its decline following North Korea’s announcement, ending down 0.8 percent. Defense shares soared with Victek Co., a maker of electronic warfare equipment, gaining 15 percent, its highest close since Dec. 4. Naval ship equipment maker Speco Co. gained 10 percent.
Minutes before the declaration, Glyn Davies, the U.S. envoy on North Korea, called on Kim not to detonate an atomic device, saying in Seoul that President Barack Obama is willing to hold “credible negotiations.” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in an e-mail afterward that the U.S. has “repeatedly called for North Korea to abide by its international obligations and to refrain from provocative acts.”
South Korean officials have warned the North is prepared to conduct a nuclear weapons test “soon” following a December rocket launch that boosted its ballistic capabilities. The military thinks a nuclear test from the North is possible “at any time,” Defense Ministry spokesman Wi Yong Seob said today.
North Korea yesterday responded to the UN sanctions by saying denuclearization is “impossible” and declaring an end to the six-nation talks aimed at getting the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The multinational dialogue involving the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia has not been held since December 2008.
The Security Council’s measure was approved by China, North Korea’s closest ally. The sanctions build on a series of asset freezes while targeting the smuggling of sensitive items and updating a list of North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile technologies prohibited for transfer into or out of the country.
“We will launch an all-out action to foil the hostile policy toward the DPRK being pursued by the U.S. and those dishonest forces following the U.S.,” the commission said in today’s statement, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The UN resolution is “the most dangerous phase of the hostile policy.”
China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, called for all sides to remain calm.
“The current situation is very sensitive and complicated,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing today in Beijing. “We hope the relevant parties stay calm, speak and act cautiously, don’t take any steps that could lead to escalation of conflict,” Hong said, adding that the six-party talks are still “an effective channel.”
North Korea has enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight basic nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea’s atomic uranium-enrichment and other atomic facilities in 2010.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com