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N. Korea Tests Nuke
Associated Press | October 09, 2006SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea said Monday it had performed its first nuclear weapons test, an underground explosion that defied international warnings but was hailed by the communist nation as a "great leap forward" for its people.
The reported test drew harsh condemnation from world powers and some warned it would destabilize the region. The U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss North Korea on Monday, and the United States and Japan were likely to press for a resolution imposing additional sanctions on the impoverished country.
The U.S. Geological Survey said it recorded a seismic event with a preliminary magnitude-4.2 in northeastern North Korea that coincided with the announced test. But the Colorado-based agency was unable to tell whether it was the result of an atomic explosion or a natural earthquake, USGS official Bruce Presgrave said.
Australia and South Korea said there was seismic confirmation that pointed to a nuclear test. A top Russian military officer confirmed the device tested was a nuclear weapon, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
However, Japan said it could not immediately confirm a nuclear test had been conducted.
The magnitude of the tremor could indicate the test was equivalent to the force of 550 tons of TNT, said Park Chang-soo, spokesman at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, a state-run South Korean geological institute.
That is relatively small compared to the World War II atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, which was equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT.
Although North Korea has long claimed it had the capability to produce a bomb, the reported test, if confirmed, would be the first proof of its membership in a small club of nuclear-armed nations. It would dramatically alter the strategic balance of power in the Pacific region and seriously undermine global anti-proliferation efforts.
The test Monday morning came a day after the ninth anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's appointment as head of the Korean Workers' Party. Tuesday will be the 61st anniversary of the party's founding.
Condemnation of North Korea from world powers came swiftly after the test was announced.
"A North Korean nuclear test would constitute a provocative act in defiance of the will of the international community and of our call to refrain from actions that would aggravate tensions in Northeast Asia," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
"We expect the U.N. Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act," he added. "The United States is closely monitoring the situation and reaffirms its commitment to protect and defend our allies in the region."
China, the North's closest ally, said Beijing "resolutely opposes" the test and hopes Pyongyang will return to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said a nuclear test by North Korea was unpardonable, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Abe was in Seoul for a summit. Japan's top government spokesman said if confirmed, the test would pose a serious threat to the stability in the region and a provocation.
South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Tae-young said: "Our government will sternly react under the principle that it cannot tolerate the North's possession of nuclear weapons." South Korea suspended an aid shipment scheduled Tuesday to the North.
South and North Korea, which fought the 1950-53 Korean War, are divided by the world's most heavily armed border.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was holding an emergency meeting Monday of top security officials, and Seoul was consulting with allies on intelligence about the reported test, the presidential spokesman said. Roh was also to speak later with President Bush, his office said.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said the alert level of the military had been raised.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the underground test was performed successfully and there was no dangerous radioactive leakage as a result.
This is "a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation," KCNA said.
"It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the ... people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability," it said. "It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it."
If a nuclear test is confirmed, North Korea would be the eighth country in the world known to have atomic weapons along with the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, India, and Pakistan. Israel also is believed to have nuclear bombs but does not confirm it.
The North is believed to have enough radioactive material for about a half-dozen bombs, using plutonium from its main nuclear reactor located at Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang. It insists its nuclear program is necessary to deter a U.S. invasion.
The North also has active missile programs, but it is not believed to have an atomic bomb design small and light enough to be mounted on a long-range rocket that could strike targets as far as the U.S.
The announcement sent the international community scrambling to try to verify whether it was an actual nuclear test.
Russian military monitoring systems "detected the test of a nuclear weapon in North Korea," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Lt. Gen. Vladimir Verkhovtsev as saying. "It is 100 percent (certain) that it was an underground nuclear explosion," the agency quoted Verkhovtsev, the head of a Defense Ministry department, as saying.
South Korean intelligence officials said the seismic wave had been detected in North Hamkyung province, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. It said the test was conducted at 10:36 a.m. (9:36 p.m. EDT Sunday) in Hwaderi near Kilju city on the northeast coast, citing defense officials.
An official at South Korea's seismic monitoring center confirmed a tremor was felt at the time North Korea said it conducted the test and said it was not a natural occurrence. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition his name not be used, because he was not authorized to talk about the sensitive information to the media.
Australia also said there was seismic confirmation that North Korea conducted a nuclear test.
The Japanese prime minister was skeptical as he arrived for the summit in South Korea.
"We must collect and analyze information to determine whether a test was actually held," Abe said.
The North has refused for a year to attend six-party international talks aimed at persuading it to disarm. The country pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 after U.S. officials accused it of a secret nuclear program, allegedly violating an earlier nuclear pact between Washington and Pyongyang.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was expected later Monday to be nominated as the next secretary-general of the United Nations by the Security Council. Ban has said he would use the post, which he would assume after Kofi Annan's term expires at the end of the year, to press for a resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff.
A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in July after a series of North Korean missile launches imposed limited sanctions on North Korea and demanded that the reclusive communist nation suspend its ballistic missile program - a demand the North immediately rejected.
The resolution bans all U.N. member states from selling material or technology for missiles or weapons of mass destruction to North Korea - and it bans all countries from receiving missiles, banned weapons or technology from Pyongyang.
Impoverished and isolated North Korea has relied on foreign aid to feed its 23 million people since disclosing in the mid-1990s that its state-run farming system had collapsed following decades of mismanagement and the loss of Soviet subsidies.
Beijing is the North's main source of food and fuel aid, and is under intense U.S. pressure to use its leverage to get Pyongyang to return to the disarmament talks.
The South had scheduled to ship 4,000 tons of cement to the North on Tuesday, but decided to delay it Yonhap reported, quoting an unidentified Unification Ministry official.
The delayed shipment was part of emergency assistance that Seoul promised the North after the it was hit by massive floods in July. South Korea has said the one-time aid is separate from the regular humanitarian aid to the North it has halted since missile launches by the North in July.
Speculation over a possible North Korean test arose earlier this year after U.S. and Japanese reports cited suspicious activity at a suspected underground test site.
But it was the North's warning last week that it would conduct a nuclear test that sparked frantic diplomatic efforts to head it off.
Japan's prime minister arrived Monday in Seoul for meetings with Roh that had been intended to address strains in relations between Japan and South Korea over territorial and historical disputes, but was overshadowed by news of the nuclear test.
On Sunday in Beijing, Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao met and pledged to work together to avert a North Korean test
The repercussions of North Korea's announcement were also felt in the financial markets.
South Korean stocks plunged Monday following North Korea's announcement of the test. The South Korean won also fell sharply. The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, fell as much as 3.6 percent after the announcement but recovered some of those losses by the close of the trading session.
Markets in South Korea, the world's 10th-largest economy, have long been considered vulnerable to potential geopolitical risks emanating from the North.
In Pyongyang, there were no signs of unusual activity Monday as North Koreans went about their lives as usual. The red flag with the yellow hammer, sickle and pen of the North's Korean Workers' Party draped buildings and lampposts to mark Tuesday's 61st anniversary of the party's founding, and there were no signs of heightened alert by security forces.
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