North Korea Vows First Nuclear Test
By CHOE SANG-HUN and JOHN O’NEIL
York Times" -- -- SEOUL, Oct. 3 — North Korea
announced today that it plans to conduct its first nuclear test,
sharply escalating its standoff with the United States and
setting off ripples of alarm in Japan and South Korea.
Also today, an Iranian official proposed a new solution to the
standoff over its nuclear program, suggesting that France create
a consortium that would oversee a uranium enrichment plant in
A statement released by the North Korean state-run news agency
declared that “the U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and
sanctions and pressure” compel the country “to conduct a nuclear
test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as
a corresponding measure for defense.”
Until now, North Korea has never acknowledged having nuclear
weapons, although intelligence officials have assumed for
several years that it had produced enough plutonium to build a
bomb. Analysts have said in the past that a test could
destabilize the balance of power in the region, perhaps pushing
Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons, and could raise the
risk of a military clash between North Korea and the United
The statement gave no indication of when such a test might
occur. Last month, Kim Seung Kyu, director of South Korea’s
National Intelligence Service, told his country’s parliament
that North Korea is capable of conducting an underground nuclear
test at any time.
Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, called a test
unacceptable and said that it would “worsen” North Korea’s
position, Reuters reported. The Japanese foreign minister, Taro
Aso, said that Tokyo would respond harshly to a test.
South Korea expressed “deep regret and concern” over the
announcement and raised its security level. Yang Chang-Seok, who
leads the government’s unification efforts, said the planned
test “poses a grave threat to peace” and “will have a decisively
negative impact” on relations between the two countries,
according to Agence France-Presse.
John R. Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United
Nations, told The Associated Press that a nuclear test would be
American officials have said that if North Korea were to conduct
nuclear tests, the United States would seek Security Council
sanctions through a procedure that carries the threat of
In London, a spokesman for Britain’s foreign ministry said a
test would be “a highly provocative act with serious
North Korea has a history of making provocative declarations
meant to get attention for its demands. But this summer it set
off similar alarms around the region when it followed through on
threats to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile and several
shorter-range missiles, defying calls by China, its chief ally
in the region, and other countries to cancel the tests.
Intelligence officials have been unsure whether North Korea
actually possesses nuclear weapons. The country kicked out
international inspectors after being accused by the United
States in 2001 of cheating on an earlier agreement to rein in
its nuclear program.
China, South Korea, Russia and Japan have joined the United
States in what are known as six-party talks with North Korea
since then, but for almost a year, North Korea has boycotted
those negotiations, citing a crackdown led by the United States
on what the Bush administration calls widespread counterfeiting
and money laundering by the North.
North Korea lashed out at the moves, saying Washington had left
“no dastardly means and methods untried in a foolish attempt to
isolate and stifle it economically and bring down the socialist
system chosen by its people themselves.”
It called the crackdown a “de facto declaration of war.”
The North Korean statement today said that its ultimate goal is
“to settle hostile relations” between it and the United States
and remove nuclear threats from the vicinity, according to the
If it follows through on its threat, it could leave the Security
Council struggling to resolve two nuclear crises at once, as
talks drag on over Iran’s program.
Today, the deputy chief of Iran’s atomic energy agency, Muhammed
Saeedi, told French radio in an interview from Tehran of a new
proposal to end the standoff, according to news services.
“To be able to arrive at a solution, we have just had an idea,”
he said. He suggested that France work through two of its
state-controlled nuclear companies to create a consortium that
would build a nuclear enrichment facility in Iran. That way, he
said, France “could control in a tangible way our enrichment
Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign minister, called the
idea “interesting” but said it needed more study.
Mr. Solana is leading negotiations on behalf of Europe over a
package of incentives meant to persuade Iran to shut down its
nuclear program, which it calls peaceful but many countries see
as a prelude to the development of nuclear weapons.
American officials have supported the current round of
negotiations, mostly because Russia and China would block any
move now to have the United Nations Security Council impose
sanctions. But they have also worried that Iran is seeking to
buy time for its program through endless talks, and trying to
split what had been a solid international coalition against it.
The French president, Jacques Chirac, has taken a softer line
than the leaders of Great Britain and Germany, suggesting last
month that the threat of sanctions be dropped if Iran agrees to
a temporary halt to nuclear enrichment.
But today French officials rejected the idea that they might
reach a separate deal with Iran on Mr. Saeedi’s enrichment plan,
saying the “channel of dialogue” must go through Mr. Solana,
according to A.F.P.
French officials also reminded Iran that Mr. Solana is still
waiting to hear whether it will offer to halt enrichment.
Last year Moscow proposed a similar idea for internationally
supervised enrichment, but at a plant located in Russia. That
idea won the support of the United States and other nations, but
was rejected by Tehran, which insisted on retaining the right to
conduct enrichment work on its own soil.
The United States has said it hopes that Mr. Solana’s
discussions conclude early this month, and say it will push
quickly for sanctions if no deal is reached.
North Korea’s intentions now will likely play a role in a number
of planned meetings on nuclear issues.
Its statement about nuclear testing coincided with announcements
in Japan that Mr. Abe will visit Beijing and Seoul next week.
Mr. Abe, a hawk on North Korea, was expected to make North Korea
a high priority in the talks.
“A nuclear test by North Korea will shake up the military
balance between North Korea, Japan and South Korea, which has
been based on conventional weapons,” said Nam Sung Wook, a North
Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul. “The sense of
insecurity will spike in South Korea, and calls could mount in
Japan for nuclear armament.”
But he noted that North Korea has made many threats that it has
not followed through on. “Right now, there is a 50-50 chance of
North Korea testing a nuke,” Mr. Nam said. “Much of the decision
will depend on what China and South Korea say after their
summits with Abe.”
He said that North Korea could finish preparations for a test
within three weeks, and would “wait for a timing with a maximum
In recent weeks, there have been sporadic news reports in
Washington, Tokyo and Seoul that North Korea may be preparing
for an underground nuclear test. The reports cited activities
around underground facilities near the border with China or on
the North’s remote northeast coast.
North Korea plans to step up production of fuel for nuclear
weapons unless the United States drops financial sanctions,
according to an American scholar, Selig S. Harrison, a longtime
Korea specialist based in Washington who visited Pyongyang last
Choe Sang-Hun reported from Seoul, and John O’Neil from New
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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