(by Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tania Branigan in Beijing guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 February 2013). Regime confirms it set off its third nuclear bomb, signalled by an earthquake detected by South Korea, Japan and the US.
North Korea has drawn widespread condemnation after conducting a nuclear test in defiance of international bans – a development signalled by an earthquake detected in the country and later confirmed by the regime.
The test, which took place in the north-east of the country just before noon local time, could bring North Korea a step closer to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile and possibly bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance.
The authorities in Pyongyang said scientists had set off a “miniaturised” nuclear device with a greater explosive force than those used in two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.
“It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” KCNA, the North’s official news agency, announced. […]
…Dr Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at the Australian National University, said it would bolster the North’s case for describing itself as a genuine nuclear state.
“Obviously the [North Koreans] are not going to bargain and are not going to give up the nuclear options,” Petrov said. “We have passed already the point of no return: North Korea is de facto a nuclear state, all we can do is minimise the damage.”
Petrov suggested the North might be willing to freeze its civilian nuclear programme if given sufficient incentives, such as the loosening of international sanctions. It would also need assurances, particularly from the US, that it would not be the target of attempts at regime change or military strikes.
The only alternative, he said, was a pre-emptive strike that could miss many of the country’s underground nuclear sites and raise the dangerous prospect of a counter-attack.
Petrov said the North’s determination to push ahead with its nuclear programme was a failure of diplomacy that began with the administration of George Bush, who described the country as part of an “axis of evil” when Washington adopted a tougher stance in 2002.
“The world is now a much more dangerous place,” Petrov said. “It’s very sad.”
Kim Min-seok, a South Korean defence ministry spokesman, said the North had informed China and the US in advance of its intention to conduct the test but could not say when the message was relayed.
Petrov said that, if true, the decision to inform other nations in advance was a marked change in the regime’s approach under its leader, Kim Jong-un, who has been in power just over a year.
Kim has shown no sign of ditching the nuclear ambitions of his father, Kim Jong-il, but has been more open than the country’s former leader about his regime’s intentions, having also given notice of its recent satellite launch using a ballistic rocket.