North Korea claims ‘successful’ nuclear warhead test

US "will never accept" North Korea as nuclear power, says Obama.
New of North Korea's successful nuclear warhead test is announced on North Korean TV on September 9, 2016.
New of North Korea's successful nuclear warhead test is announced on North Korean TV on September 9, 2016.

SEOUL // North Korea claimed on Friday that it had successfully tested a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on a missile, drawing international condemnation.

The blast at the Punggye-ri nuclear site was North Korea’s fifth test and at 10 kilotons the most powerful yet, and experts in South Korea say it approaches the capability of the bomb that devastated the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

North Korea’s state media said the test, which followed a series of ballistic missile launches, had realised the country’s goal of being able to fit a miniaturised warhead on a rocket. North Korean TV announced, “Our nuclear scientists staged a nuclear explosion test on a newly-developed nuclear warhead at the country’s northern nuclear test site. Our party sent a congratulatory message to our nuclear scientists for conducting the successful nuclear warhead explosion test.”

The news drew swift condemnation from world leaders. US president Barack Obama warned of “serious consequences” and said the US would never accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

South Korea’s president Park Geun-Hye said the “maniacal recklessness” of Mr Kim was a clear sign of his questionable mental state. She told a meeting of top security officials on Friday night, “We have to believe that Kim Jong Un’s mental state is spiralling out of control because he is not listening to any words from the international community or neighbouring countries in his attempt to cling to power.”

Since taking control after the death of his father in 2011, Mr Kim has carried out a series of purges and weapons tests designed to demonstrate his strength and consolidate his power.

“Kim Jong-un’s regime will only earn more sanctions and isolation and such provocation will further accelerate its path to self-destruction,” said Ms Park.

The UN security council went into emergency session on Friday evening after secretary-general Ban Ki-moon condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he described as “yet another brazen breach of the resolutions of the security council. ”

News of the test emerged when seismic monitors detected a 5.3-magnitude “artificial earthquake” early on Friday near Punggye-ri, where the last test took place in January.

“The 10-kiloton blast was nearly twice the (power of the) fourth nuclear test and slightly less than the Hiroshima bombing, which was measured about 15 kilotons,” said Kim Nam-Wook South Korea’s meteorological agency.

If Pyongyang can make a nuclear device small enough to fit on a warhead, and improve the range and accuracy of its missiles, it might achieve its frequently-stated aim of hitting US targets.

North Koreans who gathered around public screens to watch the official announcement of the test — which came on the 68th anniversary of the country’s founding — were jubilant.

“It’s really great news,” said Rim Jong Su, 42. “Now, I am full of confidence that if the enemies make any little provocations we will make a counter attack and we will surely win.”

Outside experts said authenticating North Korea’s claim to have created a weapon-tipped missile would be difficult.

“It’s not really possible for us to verify that the test was of a compact warhead from the seismic data,” said Melissa Hanham, a North Korea analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “We would need to see it tested on a missile, like China did in the 1960s.”

Japan condemned the test as “absolutely unacceptable” while the head of the UN atomic watchdog said it was a “clear violation” of numerous Security Council resolutions.

North Korea has been hit by five sets of United Nations sanctions since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006, but has insisted it will continue, come what may.

Its latest ballistic missile launch took place on Monday as world powers gathered for a G20 meeting in China.

China said Friday it “firmly opposes” the test, but it has limited room to manoeuvre, given its priority is to avoid a collapse of the government that would create a crisis on its border and shift the balance of power on the Korean peninsula towards the US.

Experts at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, known as 38 North, said the latest development made plain that the US and South Korean strategy on restraining North Korea “has clearly failed”.

“No one should be surprised that North Korea continues to conduct nuclear tests to enhance the capabilities of its growing arsenal. Nor should they expect China to solve this problem for the United States,” said Joel Wit.

South Korea announced it would now boost its psychological warfare efforts by increasing the number of propaganda loudspeakers along the rivals’ border, the world’s most heavily armed, and the number of hours of anti-North Korean broadcasts. After the tests, South Korea’s main spy agency briefed politicians in a closed meeting. Kim Byunghee, from the opposition Minjoo party, revealed there were concerns that North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons that can be mounted on ballistic missiles is progressing more rapidly than previously thought.

North Korea’s persistent pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons has long been one of the most intractable foreign policy problems for US. administrations.

Diplomacy has so far failed. Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programme in exchange for aid were last held in late 2008 and fell apart in early 2009.

The Korean Peninsula remains technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 9, 2016 04:00 AM

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