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North Korea says it will conduct nuclear test, but leaves door open to diplomacy

North Korea says it will conduct nuclear test, but leaves door open to diplomacy

North Korea triggered global alarm by saying it will conduct a nuclear test, a key step in the manufacture of atomic bombs that it views as a deterrent against any U.S. attack.
But the North also said in its announcement Tuesday that it was committed to nuclear disarmament, suggesting a willingness to negotiate.
The contradictory statement fits a North Korean pattern of ratcheting up tension on the Korean Peninsula, a Cold War-era flashpoint, in an attempt to win concessions such as economic aid. The strategy has had mixed results in recent years as the totalitarian regime sinks deeper into isolation and poverty, with China serving as its lifeline for food and fuel.
North Korea "will in the future conduct a nuclear test in a condition where safety is firmly guaranteed," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Yet it said it wanted to "settle hostile relations" between the North and the United States, and that it "will do its utmost to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned the plan.
"It would be a very provocative act," she said at a news conference in Cairo. Still, she said, "they have not yet done it."
She did not elaborate on the United States' options in the event of a North Korean test.
Many North Korea watchers believe the country's dictator, Kim Jong Il, knows that an all-out confrontation with the United States, the world's only superpower, would be a suicidal act certain to lead to his destruction. Even if Kim seeks negotiations, though, the risk of a miscalculation that spirals out of control cannot be ruled out.
The North Korean statement did not say when a nuclear test might occur, but the prospect that Pyongyang could soon make such a technological leap drew rebukes and consternation from Japan, South Korea and the United States. The allies, along with China and Russia, had participated in stalled six-party talks aimed at getting the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Pyongyang has not conducted any known test to prove its claim that it has nuclear weapons. Some experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build half a dozen or more nuclear bombs, though there are doubts about whether it could deliver them accurately on a warhead.
"The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a self-defense measure in response," said the statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
It was the first time the North had publicly announced its intent to conduct a nuclear test amid recent intelligence reports that it was preparing one. Previously, it had warned that it might conduct a test, depending on U.S. actions.
Typically, North Korea assesses international reaction to its statements before plotting its next move. The American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, brought up the North Korean statement for discussion Tuesday at the regular meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
China, France and the United States were however unable to agree on how to react and council members agreed to meet to try to come up with a response Wednesday morning.
In Finland, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said such a test "is always bad news."
Japan's foreign minister, Taro Aso, called the North's nuclear test plans "totally unforgivable," and said Japan would react "sternly" if the North conducted the tests, according to Kyodo News agency.
In South Korea, the presidential office said the country had raised its "security level" and that security officials planned to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday. The United States keeps about 29,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
China, North Korea's ally and chief benefactor, had no immediate comment. Beijing has previously called for stability and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea counters U.S. influence in the region, but China is believed to be increasingly frustrated with North Korea's go-it-alone belligerence.
In a worst-case scenario, a North Korean nuclear test could prompt Japan to seek its own nuclear deterrent, intensifying historical tensions with China and South Korea, both of which suffered under Japanese colonial rule in the early 20th century.
A test could also strain the alliance between the United States and South Korea, which has sought to engage its neighbor despite Washington's past espousal of economic sanctions and other penalties.
The United States is likely to seek a military solution to the North Korean problem only as a last resort, partly because of the burden of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The timing of any nuclear test is almost impossible to predict, though North Korea has sometimes made a splash with statements or military actions on important anniversaries at home, or political events such as elections in South Korea and the United States.
Although North Korea is dotted with underground military installations, media reports in South Korea have identified North Hamkyong province on the North's northeast coast as a likely site for a nuclear test.
Six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear activity have been stalled for almost a year. Pyongyang skipped the talks in protest over U.S. financial restrictions imposed for alleged illegal activity, including money laundering and counterfeiting.


Updated : 2021-02-25 09:40 GMT+08:00