North Korea said Wednesday that its nuclear weapons program was no longer negotiable, and indicated that it might conduct its third nuclear test to retaliate against the United Nations Security Council’s tightening of sanctions against the country for launching a rocket last month.
Although it was not the first time North Korea had expressed such a strident stance, its posture, coming under the new leadership of Kim Jong-un, threw a direct challenge to President Obama as he starts his second term, and to Park Geun-hye, who will be sworn in as president of South Korea next month.
After years of tensions with North Korea, both Mr. Obama and Ms. Park recently said they were keeping the door open for dialogue with North Korea on the premise that such engagement would lead to the eventual dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.
The North’s comments came as Washington reaffirmed its policy of punishing North Korea for moving toward the development of long-range missiles tipped with a nuclear warhead, spearheading international backing for a unanimous Security Council resolution on Tuesday.
The resolution tightened existing sanctions and condemned North Korea’s Dec. 12 rocket launching as a violation of earlier resolutions banning the country from conducting any tests involving ballistic missile technology. North Korea said Wednesday that it would take “physical counteraction” to bolster its “nuclear deterrence both qualitatively and quantitatively.”
By “physical counteraction,” analysts in Seoul said, North Korea most likely meant detonating another nuclear device to show advances in bomb making. After analyzing the debris of the rocket North Korea fired in December to put a satellite into orbit, South Korean officials said North Korea indigenously built crucial components of a missile that can fly more than 6,200 miles.
In recent months, international experts have detected what appear to be new tunneling activities and efforts to fix flood damage in the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeastern North Korea. Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the Defense Ministry of South Korea, told reporters last month that North Korea could conduct a third nuclear test on short notice once its leadership decided to. North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in Punggye-ri in 2006 and in 2009.
The North Korean statement said Wednesday that Washington and its allies “know better than any others about the fact that ballistic missile technology is the only means for launching satellites, and they launch satellites more than any others.” It added, “This is self-deception and the height of double standards.”
In recent years, North Korea has made it increasingly clear that it is determined to keep its nuclear weapons at whatever costs, undermining a once-popular belief that the Pyongyang government’s brinkmanship was a mere bargaining ploy designed to get as many concessions as possible in exchange for nuclear weapons.
Choi Jin-wook, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said, “This is a strong message from North Korea, basically saying that no matter how much economic aid it receives, no matter how flexible other countries become, it will be negotiating only on the premise that it will be accepted and treated as a nuclear power.”
He continued, “The North is sending a wake-up alarm to Washington and Seoul.”