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World leaders urge North Korea to abandon nuclear test plans

World leaders urge North Korea to abandon nuclear test plans

North Korea's announced intention to test a nuclear bomb prompted dismay in its region Wednesday, with China urging restraint and Japan warning of further isolation for the communist country.
Pyongyang sparked global alarm Tuesday when it said it would conduct a nuclear test sometime in the future to bolster its self-defense, saying it was compelled to because of an "extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure" from the United States.
It is the first time the North publicly announced its intention to conduct a nuclear test, amid recent reports that it may be preparing one. Pyongyang says it has nuclear weapons, but it has not conducted any known test to prove its claim.
The United States, Japan and European nations expressed consternation over the plans, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warning Wednesday the North faced further isolation and decline unless it answered international concerns.
Even China _ North Korea's ally and chief benefactor _ broke its initial silence Wednesday, urging Pyongyang to "keep calm and restrained on the nuclear test issue."
China, Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea have all taken part in talks to persuade the North to freeze its nuclear development program, but that process has been stalled for nearly a year.
Pyongyang has refused to resume the talks unless the U.S. withdraws financial sanctions imposed on the country, and in July drew international condemnation by test-firing seven missiles.
Unlike the regional response in July, which quickly fractured over how far to pressure the North, the communist state's most recent threat has inspired a common front.
Abe, Japan's new prime minister, announced he would hold back-to-back summits with Beijing and Seoul on Sunday and Monday. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is also slated to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao next week to find ways of persuading Pyongyang not to go ahead with its threat.
South Korea, one of the main aid providers to the impoverished North, has consistently pursued dialogue with North Korea since their leaders first met in a historic summit in 2000. That approach has caused a rift with Washington that favors a harder line toward the communist regime.
But even Seoul suggested Wednesday its patience was running thin. Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said Korea did not tolerate North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons and warned of a "shift" in Seoul's policy of engagement with Pyongyang.
Japan, Washington's main ally in Asia, has long taken a hard-line stance toward the North. With the help of the U.S., Tokyo is bolstering its missile defense capabilities, and a U.S. air base in southern Japan will soon deploy advanced Patriot missiles designed to intercept tactical ballistic or cruise missiles.
On Wednesday, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan went as far to suggest a North Korean nuclear test could prompt Japan to adopt atomic weapons. That would intensify historical tensions with China and South Korea, both of which suffered under Japanese colonial rule in the early 20th century.
Elsewhere, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he was seeking a meeting with the North Korean ambassador to Australia Ambassador Chon Jae Hong on Wednesday over the Asian country's "deeply offensive" nuclear test plan. Australia, a close security ally of the United States, is one of the few Western countries to have limited official ties with North Korea.
In Russia, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov voiced concerns about environmental consequences of a nuclear test for neighboring Russian territory, saying it could "could cause ecological damage in Russia."
Ivanov also said such a move would "further exacerbate the military-political situation on the Korean Peninsula and around it, and further erode the international nuclear nonproliferation regime."
Britain, France, Singapore and New Zealand have also urged the North to reconsider its plans. The European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Tuesday, "That is always bad news.
South Korean officials have said there are no signs that a nuclear test is imminent. However, Seoul's top official on dealings with the North, Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, said Wednesday there was "a high possibility" a test would eventually take place if "efforts to resume the six-party talks fail."


Updated : 2020-12-01 08:22 GMT+08:00