Published — Friday 25 January 2013
Last update 25 January 2013 3:03 am
SEOUL: North Korea said yesterday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its “sworn enemy”.
The announcement by the country’s top military body came a day after the UN Security Council agreed to a US-backed resolution to censure and sanction for a rocket launch in December that breached UN rules.
Pyongyang is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.
“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” N. Korea’s National Defence Commission said.
Pyongyang is believed by S. Korea and other observers to be “technically ready” for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un, who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the UN sanctions.
China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the US-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang’s two earlier nuclear tests.
Thursday’s statement by Pyongyang represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition, with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.
China’s Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out N. Korea, urging the “relevant party” not to take any steps that would raise tensions.
“We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.
N. Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.
Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former ruler Kim Jong-il’s Feb 16 birthday.
“N. Korea will have felt betrayed by China for agreeing to the latest UN resolution and they might be targeting (China) as well (with this statement),” said Lee Seung-yeol, senior research fellow at Ewha Institute of Unification Studies in Seoul.
Washington urged Pyongyang not to proceed with a third test just as the North’s statement was published yesterday.
“Whether N. Korea tests or not, is up to Pyongyang,” Glyn Davies, the top US envoy for N. Korean diplomacy, said in Seoul.
“We hope they don’t do it. We call on them not to do it,” Davies said after a meeting with S. Korean officials. “This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula.”
The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.