Washington: President Barack Obama said Monday that North Korea’s latest nuclear test should be “a matter of grave concern to all nations” and accused Pyongyang of behaving recklessly and defying international will.
Obama also said in an early-morning statement that the United States “will continue working with our allies and partners” in multilateral talks and will hold consultations with members of the UN Security Council on it and a subsequent series of test-firings of short-range ground-to-air missiles.
In Pyongyang earlier, North Korea said that it had carried out a powerful underground nuclear test — much larger than one conducted in 2006. The regime also test-fired three short-range, ground-to-air missiles later Monday from the same northeastern site where it launched a rocket last month, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.
The rocket liftoff, widely believed to be a cover for a test of its long-range missile technology, drew censure from the UN Security Council.
Reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear program has been a continuing problem for US administrations, dating to Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s. Former President George W Bush labeled North Korea as a country that was part of an international “axis of evil,” but the United States subsequently removed Pyongyang from its list of official state sponsors of terrorism when it shut down a nuclear installation late in the Bush administration.
In his statement Monday, Obama noted that North Korea had “conducted a nuclear test in violation of international law.”
“It appears to also have attempted a short range missile launch,” the president said in his statement. “These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations. North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security.”
“By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council,” he said, “North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. North Korea’s behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia.”
“Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed the latest series of tests “just speak to the growing belligerence on the part of North Korea ... the growing defiance of international law.”
Mullen, appearing Monday morning on CBS television, said that “all of those things point to a country I think continues to destabilize that region and in the long term, should they continue to develop a nuclear weapons program, poses a grave threat to the United States.”
Mullen, making appearances on various TV morning news shows to pay tribute to troops on Monday’s US holiday Memorial Day, told NBC that he was “very confident we can deal with a threat posed by North Korea.”
“It’s not just the US, but there are many other countries that are equally concerned,” the admiral said. “This was not an unanticipated test on the part of North Korea, should we be able to confirm it. ... It’s a country that continues to isolate itself, and the international community must continue to bring pressure to make sure they don’t achieve a nuclear weapons program that can threaten other countries and the US as well.”
He did not discuss whether there were any changes in US military alert status.
Speaking on ABC television, Mullen said: “We believe that North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program. A North Korea with nuclear weapons poses a great danger to its neighbors. They’ve also recently launched longer-range missiles pursuing literally ICBM kinds of missiles.”
“In the long run,” Mullen said, “a state like North Korea with nuclear weapons and the ability to fire those kind of missiles long range pose a threat to the United States.”
North Korea earlier this year rejected a plan for additional US food assistance and kicked out five groups distributing American aid in the country.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said at the time, in mid-March, that the North gave no reason for refusing to accept US food aid. But the rejection was worrisome to aid workers and US officials.
North Korea faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside aid to help feed its 23 million people since famine reportedly killed as many as 2 million in the 1990s, a result of natural disasters and mismanagement.