NU­CLEAR NORTH KOREA:

Rogue na­tion takes an­other step in bid for nu­clear arse­nal

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By W.J. Hen­ni­gan and Ralph Vartabe­dian W. J. Hen­ni­gan re­ported from Wash­ing­ton and Ralph Vartabe­dian from Los An­ge­les. Los An­ge­les Times staff writ­ers Jonathan Kaiman in Bei­jing and Michael A. Me­moli in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted. william.hen­ni­gan@latimes.com

Tremors that em­anated Fri­day from North Korea’s nu­clear test site alerted the world to an­other step in that coun­try’s march to de­velop long-range mis­siles tipped with nu­clear war­heads.

WASH­ING­TON — Tremors that em­anated Fri­day from North Korea’s nu­clear test site alerted the world to an­other cru­cial step that the iso­lated na­tion had made in its de­fi­ant, decade­long march to de­velop long-range mis­siles tipped with light­weight nu­clear war­heads.

The man-made earth­quake, de­tected by U.S. in­stru­ments Fri­day at 5.3 in mag­ni­tude, was more pow­er­ful than any of the pre­vi­ous un­der­ground tests con­ducted by the govern­ment of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — in­di­cat­ing that the weapon det­o­nated with a yield of about 10 kilo­tons.

The test, when cou­pled with the three suc­cess­ful bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches ear­lier in the week, of­fered a hint to world lead­ers that North Korean en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists are mak­ing an­other in­cre­men­tal, yet sig­nif­i­cant, step in their nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Two of the na­tion’s five suc­cess­ful nu­clear det­o­na­tions have oc­curred in the last eight months. Over that same pe­riod, the mil­i­tary has made an un­prece­dented 21 bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches — more than four times as many as North Korea had ever fired.

State-run me­dia in the cap­i­tal of Py­ongyang made a num­ber of as­ser­tions Fri­day, say­ing North Korea had be­come a full-fledged nu­clear weapons state, had a stan­dard­ized weapon de­sign and pos­sessed war­heads small enough to be af­fixed to bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

It char­ac­ter­ized the Fri­day tests as a “high­er­level” nu­clear war­head ex­plo­sion that would pre­pare the coun­try to re­tal­i­ate against any “provo­ca­tion” by “U.S.-led hos­tile forces.”

The test drew con­dem­na­tion from across Asia and ex­ac­er­bated fears that the com­mu­nist coun­try is mak­ing progress to­ward its goal of de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy to un­leash a nu­clear strike on the U.S.

The ap­par­ent ad­vance­ments have come de­spite a range of United Na­tions sanc­tions t hat have ground the North Korean econ­omy to a halt. The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil con­vened an emer­gency meet­ing Fri­day in New York.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is­sued a state­ment promis­ing “ad­di­tional sig­nif­i­cant steps,” in­clud­ing more sanc­tions, against North Korea.

“Far from achiev­ing its stated na­tional se­cu­rity and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals, North Korea’s provoca­tive and desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tions have in­stead served to iso­late and im­pov­er­ish its peo­ple through its re­lent­less pur­suit of nu­clear weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” Obama said.

Af­ter North Korea’s lat­est nu­clear test this week, the re­sponses from Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump were starkly dif­fer­ent.

Clin­ton, the for­mer sec­re­tary of state un­der Obama, re­leased a de­tailed state­ment Fri­day, call­ing the ac­tion by North Korea “out­ra­geous and un­ac­cept­able.”

“I strongly con­demn this reck­less ac­tion, which — cou­pled with its re­cent series of mis­sile launches — makes clear Py­ongyang’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­velop a de­liv­er­able nu­clear weapon,” she said, al­lud­ing to four pre­vi­ous nu­clear tests.

“This con­sti­tutes a di­rect threat to the United States, and we can­not and will never ac­cept this,” she said.

As Clin­ton voiced staunch sup­port for Obama’s call to strengthen United Na­tions sanc­tions against the coun­try, the Trump cam­paign had a dif­fer­ent mes­sage: Clin­ton and Obama are not strong lead­ers.

“North Korea’s fifth nu­clear test, the fourth since Hil­lary Clin­ton be­came sec­re­tary of state, is yet one more ex­am­ple of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cat­a­strophic fail­ures,” said Ja­son Miller, a spokesman for Trump. “Clin­ton promised to work to end North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram as sec­re­tary of state, yet the pro­gram has only grown in strength and so­phis­ti­ca­tion.”

Amer­i­can de­fense of­fi­cials ex­pressed con­cern that the tests demon­strate a new level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion, though non­govern­ment ex­perts in the U.S. are still hun­ger­ing for ev­i­dence or for­mal analy­ses of where North Korean tech­nol­ogy and in­dus­trial ca­pa­bil­ity stand.

Joel Wit, a founder of the 38north.org web­site af­fil­i­ated with the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, said North Korea al­most cer­tainly has achieved a ca­pa­bil­ity to place a nu­clear weapon on a re­gional bal­lis­tic mis­sile that could threaten South Korea, Ja­pan, China or Rus­sia, as well as U.S. bases in the re­gion, where tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can troops are de­ployed.

But the nu­clear de­vice de­vel­oped by North Korea is rudi­men­tary by U.S. stan­dards. South Korea’s mil­i­tary said the early in­di­ca­tion is that North Korea’s test cre­ated a blast of 10 kilo­tons in yield, which is less than the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.

Even China, North Korea’s only real ally, which has used its diplo­matic sway to shield North Korea from pun­ish­ment, is­sued a state­ment con­demn­ing the det­o­na­tion.

AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP

South Kore­ans protest dur­ing a Fri­day rally against the anti-mis­sile de­fense de­signed to counter North Korea’s mis­siles.

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