Reaction to North Korea’s third nuclear test continued to pour in throughout Tuesday. A UN Security Council statement strongly condemned the test, with all fifteen countries, including China, voting in favor of releasing a press statement. The statement, read by Kim Sung Hwan, the South Korean Foreign Minister, said that “the members of the Security Council will begin work immediately on appropriate measures in a Security Council resolution.”
However, it was not immediately clear how soon a vote on a new resolution, widely expected to tighten sanctions, would be forthcoming. It was nearly month and a half between North Korea’s rocket test in early December and a vote on Resolution 2087 in January).
So far the North Koreans appeared undeterred by threats of further sanctions, even from their closest ally, China.
In a statement released after the test Pyongyang called the event a “resolute step for self-defense taken by it to cope with the U.S. hostile act against it.” It went on to say that the U.S. now has a choice of two policy options: “respect the DPRK’s right to satellite launch and open a phase of détente and stability or to keep to its wrong road leading to the explosive situation by persistently pursuing its hostile policy toward the DPRK.”
But it wasn’t just the U.S. with complaints, with China’s Foreign Ministry also releasing a statement that called on the North to abide by its denuclearization pledge, and not to “take additional actions that could cause the situation to further deteriorate.”
The statement also said that Yang spoke to the North Korean Ambassador to China, Ji Jae Ryong, and “demanded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea side cease talk that further escalates the situation and swiftly return to the correct channel of dialogue and negotiation.”
In addition, Yang also talked with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by phone, which State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said touched on importance of implementing commitments of a January UN resolution that toughened sanctions against Pyongyang and warned of “significant action” if it conducted a nuclear test.
Russia was also quick to condemn the test, with an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yuriy Ushakov, saying that such actions by the North “deserve both condemnation and appropriate reaction from the international community…We are demanding that the DPRK cease these illegal actions, fully abandon its nuclear missile program and return to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) guarantee regime.”
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, also called for a resumption of six-party talks as soon as possible.
Meanwhile U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with outgoing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak yesterday, with both pledging “unswerving unity” in their response to the North’s missile and nuclear threats. I
n a line sure to raise hackles in Pyongyang, a White House press release said that “President Obama unequivocally reaffirmed that the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to the Republic of Korea, including the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”
The North Korean nuclear issue only got two sentences in Obama’s State of the Union address, with the president saying “The regime in North Korea must know, they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only further isolate them, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”
The inclusion of missile defense may have been done in response to reports that the North also fired short-range missiles two days before the test.
There were also reports that the nuclear test could have harmed an Obama administration push to reduce the amount of nuclear weapons possessed by the U.S. But just a day before the test, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “the overall posture of the administration remains that we have more weapons than we need for our own deterrence, including deterrence in a North Korean context.”
After the test, however, Republicans responded critically to the State Department suggestion, with Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, saying it showed that U.S. security can’t afford “even more cuts to US defense capabilities, such as our nuclear deterrent.”
One positive sign that could have ramifications outside of the North Korean nuclear issue was a conversation between President Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Historical and territorial issues have seriously harmed the bilateral relationship in recent months, but on Tuesday both leaders agreed to “work closely together to cope with the aftermath of North Korea’s third nuclear test”. While the historical and territorial issues won’t disappear, the two sides largely agree on how to approach the North Korean issue and could use that to build positive steps for the future.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test yesterday, in face of significant international pressure not to detonate.