N. Korea Nuke Test Draws Worldwide Condemnation, Concern

WASHINGTON – A worldwide barrage of condemnation was fired at North Korea on Monday after the reclusive communist regime announced it had tested a nuclear weapon, with the United States denouncing it as “unacceptable” and even close ally China saying it resolutely opposed the test.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Pyongyang’s first-ever nuclear test, an underground explosion, was successfully performed Monday "with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent," according to reports. If details of the test are confirmed, North Korea would be the ninth country known to have nuclear weapons.

“The United States condemns this provocative act,” responded President Bush in a released statement to the media. “Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond.”

A Security Council resolution adopted in July after a series of North Korean missile launches imposed limited sanctions on North Korea and demanded that the country rejoin international nuclear talks. Pyongyang immediately rejected the plea, claiming that endeavors such as Monday’s underground test "will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it."

“Threats will not lead to a brighter future for the North Korean people, nor weaken the resolve of the United States and our allies to achieve the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Bush stated Monday. “Today's claim by North Korea serves only to raise tensions, while depriving the North Korean people of the increased prosperity and better relations with the world offered by the implementation of the joint statement of the six-party talks. The oppressed and impoverished people of North Korea deserve that brighter future.”

The president said Monday’s action "deserves an immediate response" by the U.N. Security Council.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, in Seoul for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also condemned the reported test, saying it would make it difficult for Seoul to maintain its engagement policy with its communist neighbor. According to The Associated Press, Roh said South Korea would try to resolve the situation through dialogue, but his government reportedly delayed the planned delivery of 4,000 tons of cement to the North on Tuesday as emergency relief.

South Korea also raised its military's alert level, and its intelligence agency warned that Pyongyang could conduct more tests, the Yonhap news agency reported. South Korea, which does not have nuclear weapons, has shared the world's most heavily armed border with North Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce, without a peace treaty.

Meanwhile, China – a key North Korean ally – openly criticized Pyongyang and demanded that it return to disarmament talks. In a strongly worded reaction issued to its fellow communist nation, Beijing opened up the possibility of punitive measures against Pyongyang, which relies on China for all of the oil it consumes.

"China expresses its resolute opposition," China's Foreign Ministry said, adding that the North "defied the universal opposition of international society and flagrantly conducted the nuclear test."

There were conflicting reports on the size of the blast in northeast North Korea. South Korea said it was relatively small, while Russia said it had been perhaps as powerful as the nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan during World War II. In an English-language dispatch, KCNA said it was "a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation."

If details of the test are confirmed, North Korea will have fulfilled its threat to join the elite club of nuclear powers that include the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, India, Pakistan and Israel.

Japan’s prime minister, who called for "harsh measures" against Pyongyang, said: "The development and possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea will in a major way transform the security environment in North Asia and we will be entering a new, dangerous nuclear age." Raising the nuclear stakes from Pyongyang to Tokyo would not only put some of the world's biggest cities in the shadow of atomic weapons, it might also put nuclear arms in the hands of previously reluctant powers like South Korea or Taiwan.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, expressed his concerns of the “chain reaction” that the “new regional threat to world security” could bring about in Asia.

“In the East Asia region, today’s event puts new urgency into a successful outcome from the Six Party Talks,” Kobia wrote in a letter to UN Ambassadors of the P5. “North Korean nuclear testing must not be allowed to cause a chain reaction involving Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and possibly others such as Indonesia and Australia."

On a wider scale, North Korea's dabbling with atomic weapons could also spur other nuclear powers, including the United States, India or China, to resume their own nuclear testing, a move that raises the risk of proliferation.

“We pray that God will help [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the UN ambassadors of North Korea and its neighbors] to respond wisely, peacefully, lawfully and collectively,” the WCC head added.