The statement from the North Korean National Defense Commission, the country’s highest military body, was considerably more specific than past warnings from the country, and explicitly ruled out any talks over “denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, which has been the objective of on-again, off-again talks with Pyongyang for two decades.

“We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level,” the statement said, “will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people.” As in the past, the statement also suggested North Korea viewed its weapons programs as a “deterrence” against attack.

It may prove that the statement was another outburst by an insecure, starving country; North Korea has often threatened to strike the “heart” of the United States, and a popular propaganda poster there shows a missile hitting what looks like Capitol Hill.

But the difference now is that the country has just completed a successful long-range rocket test that showed for the first time that its goal of designing a weapon that could hit the United States could be within reach in the next several years.

In recent weeks American intelligence officials have become concerned that the country’s new and untested leader, Kim Jong-un, may have decided that confrontation with the West could prove a more successful strategy to retaining power than a new attempt at economic reform. Instead, he appears to be following in the path of his grandfather and his father, both of whom pressed for greater nuclear and missile capability.

The White House responded to the North Korean declaration by saying it was “needlessly provocative.” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters that “further provocations would only increase Pyongyang’s isolation,” a variant of the line the White House has used every time the North has issued a threat, launched a missile or revealed a new nuclear facility.

But deeper isolation does not appear to be the young Mr. Kim’s greatest fear. Until now, China, which supplies the North’s energy and some of its food, has not cut off its aid in response to North Korean actions. Chinese officials have made it clear, in meetings with their American counterparts, that they fear instability in North Korea more than they worry about the country advancing its longstanding nuclear and missile capabilities.

“If you look back over the past four years,” one former administration official said recently, “we haven’t moved the Chinese at all.”

It is hard to know what exactly the North Korean meant by its statement that the nuclear test would be of a different nature. It could indicate that the country will try to show that it can manufacture a warhead small enough to fit on a missile, though that technology is extremely difficult.

It could also mean that it plans to try to test a uranium weapon, created from a new uranium-enrichment program that it showed two years ago to a visiting American scientist. The North’s two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, used some of its limited stockpile of plutonium.

But there is little question that the North is making preparations at the Punggye test site in the country’s northeast, near the Chinese border for a possible nuclear test. Col. Wi Yong-seob of the army, deputy spokesman of the Defense Ministry of South Korea, said on Thursday, “North Korea can conduct a nuclear test as soon as its leadership makes up its mind.”

North Korea had previously hinted at the possibility of conducting a nuclear test, as its Foreign Ministry did on Wednesday when it issued a scathing statement rejecting a unanimous resolution that the United Nations Security Council adopted on Tuesday. The resolution tightened sanctions and condemned North Korea’s Dec. 12 rocket launching as a violation of earlier resolutions that banned the country from conducting any tests involving ballistic-missile technology.

North Korea has since declared that it would shun any talk on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, adding that it would not give up its nuclear weapons until “the denuclearization of the world is realized.”

The North’s statement on Thursday indicated that Mr. Kim, despite recent hints of modest economic changes and openness in North Korea, was likely to follow the pattern his father established when he ran the country: a cycle of a rocket launching, United Nations condemnation, and nuclear testing.

North Korea Issues Blunt New Threat to United States – New York Times
Top Stories – Google News
Google News