Is North Korea upping the ante with enriched uranium test?
Rogue state enters a 'new phase of confrontation' as it promises third nuclear test and rocket launches
NORTH KOREA'S declaration that it intends to carry out a "high-level nuclear test" suggests the rogue state may be about to trial a weapon from its "new, uranium-based nuclear programme" for the first time, the BBC says. And the announcement begins a worrying "new phase" in Pyongyang's military stand-off with the US.
The BBC's Seoul correspondent, Lucy Williamson, said the communist regime's announcement that it would conduct its third test of a nuclear device as well as tests of long-range rockets, in retaliation for the imposition of a new set of UN sanctions, came as little surprise to commentators in the region. North Korea held nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and "tunnelling activity" recently observed within the pariah state appears to be similar to that seen during preparations for those tests.
But Williamson said the fact the test was described as "high-level" suggested Pyongyang was about to conduct the first test of a device from its uranium-enrichment programme which is specifically designed to create nuclear weapons. Experts told the Voice of Russia that the two earlier tests were of devices using "weapon-grade plutonium" probably extracted from spent fuel used at the country's only nuclear reactor.
South Korea believes its northern enemy is "technically ready" to conduct such a test, says Reuters. No date has been given for the trial and the decision to push the button lies with leader Kim Jong-un, who approved the launch of a long-range rocket in December that triggered the latest round of UN sanctions.
Reuters says North Korea's announcement of the tests, and its declaration that they mark a "new phase of confrontation" with the US, poses a "huge challenge" to China, its only major ally on the world stage. China backed the latest UN sanctions and its foreign ministry today called for "calm and restraint".
But few nations can afford to ignore the latest escalation of tensions. CNN points out that the international community "stifled a snigger" when North Korea's "much-hyped" rocket launch in April last year failed dismally when the missile broke up and crashed into the sea.
But the regime persevered, and in December it successfully launched a Unha-3 long-range rocket. "No-one is laughing now," CNN said in a report written at the time. And with the grim prospect of more rocket tests and a third nuclear trial hanging in the air, no-one is likely to be laughing for some time.