SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea triggered global alarm on Tuesday by saying it will conduct a nuclear test, a key step in the manufacture of atomic bombs that it views as a deterrent against any U.S. attack. But the North also said it was committed to nuclear disarmament, suggesting a willingness to negotiate.
The contradictory statement fits a North Korean pattern of ratcheting up tension on the Korean Peninsula, a Cold War-era flashpoint, in an attempt to win concessions such as economic aid. The strategy has had mixed results in recent years as the totalitarian regime sinks deeper into isolation and poverty, with China serving as its lifeline for food and fuel.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called North Korea’s announcement “a very provocative act.” It came as the standoff deepened over Iran’s nuclear program, with senior U.N. diplomats saying six world powers would begin negotiations Friday in London on possibly imposing sanctions against Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.
It was the first time the North had publicly announced its intent to conduct a nuclear test. Previously, it had warned that it might conduct a test, depending on U.S. actions.
“The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a self-defense measure in response,” said a statement by the North’s Foreign Ministry and carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Yet it said it wanted to “settle hostile relations” between the North and the United States, and that it “will do its utmost to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula.”
The North Korean statement did not say when a nuclear test might occur, but the prospect drew rebukes from Japan, South Korea and the United States. The allies, along with China and Russia, had participated in the stalled six-party talks aimed at getting the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.
In Cairo, Egypt, Rice said the United States would have to assess its options if the North carries out the test, without detailing what those options were. She stressed, however, that a North Korean test was an issue “for the neighborhood” and not just for the United States.