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Context of 'October 9, 2006: North Korea Tests Nuclear Bomb'

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Secretary of State Colin Powell sounds a note of disinterest when asked about the likelihood of a North Korean test of a nuclear weapon (see October 9, 2006). Powell tells reporters: “If they test we’ll take note of their test. The only reason they are testing is to scare the international community. The president has already accepted the possibility that they might test. And we will say ‘Gee, that was interesting.’” Powell adds: “The 50-year history of dealing with this regime is that they are marvelous in terms of threats, in terms of rhetoric and actions. Well, they might take an action, but this time they would be sticking their finger not just in the eye of the United States, but I think Kim Jong Il will have to think twice about whether he would do such a thing in light of Chinese involvement.” President Bush himself has answered a question about the likelihood of North Korea building as many as eight nuclear weapons by shrugging. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that because of the complete failure of negotiations between the US and North Korea (see August 2003), “[t]he administration had little choice but to act as though nothing was wrong.” (Walczak and Crock 9/22/2003; Scoblic 2008, pp. 241)

North Korea announces that if it is attacked by the US, it will retaliate with nuclear weapons. A Bush administration spokesman says the threat is “deeply hypothetical” and not to be taken seriously (see October 9, 2006). Over the next two days after issuing the threat, North Korea test-fires seven ballistic missiles, including one long-range Taepodong-2 missile. (BBC 12/2007)

US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. (BBC 12/2007)

United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’ [Source: United States Geological Survey]North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” (BBC 10/9/2006) A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. (Bliss 10/16/2006)

North Korea says it may carry out further nuclear testing (see October 9, 2006), and says that any United Nations sanctions (see October 14, 2006) would be considered an act of war. The North blames the US for the threatened sanctions, and says, “If the US keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures.” South Korea has placed its military on high alert. President Bush calls for stiff sanctions against North Korea, but insists the US has “no intentions of attacking” it. The US remains committed to diplomacy, Bush says, but “reserves all options to defend our friends in the region.” UN General Secretary Kofi Annan urges the US to hold bilateral talks with North Korea, and adds: “I would urge the North Korean authorities not to escalate the situation any further. We already have an extremely difficult situation.” Any further nuclear tests hinge on the US’s actions, says Kim Yong Nam, the deputy leader of the North Korean government. Kim says, “The issue of future nuclear tests is linked to US policy toward our country.” (Fox News 10/11/2006)

The United Nations Security Council votes unanimously to sanction North Korea for its recent nuclear weapons test (see October 9, 2006). UN Resolution 1718 demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons as well as its ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. The resolution gives other nations the right to inspect cargo moving in and out of North Korea to look for non-conventional weapons, but has no threat of force connected to the inspections’ potential findings. It also demands that Pyongyang return “without precondition” to the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program. (BBC 12/2007) As it threatened, North Korea labels the sanctions “a declaration of war” (see October 11, 2006). Though Pyongyang makes no direct military strikes towards South Korea or any other neighbor, indications are strong that it may be preparing for a second test. (Branigan 10/17/2006)

In an abrupt reversal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologizes for his country’s nuclear test (see October 9, 2006). He reportedly tells a Chinese delegation that he regrets the test, denies any plans for further tests (see October 11, 2006), and says he is willing for North Korea to resume its participation in international nuclear negotiations if the US agrees not to “financially isolate” his country. For their part, US State Department officials say they doubt Kim made any such statements. But the US is willing to rejoin negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, “The Chinese are emphasizing the need for six-party talks to begin again and for the North to re-engage in the talks.” North Korea “urged us to be open to returning to those talks without preconditions, which for us is not difficult.” (MSNBC 10/20/2006)

The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). (BBC 12/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 261)


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