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.
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 States.
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.
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 military action.
[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun (Seoul) and John O’Neil (New York), The New York Times]