Snow-covered nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Korea. (Yonhap News)
North Korea threatened to conduct a nuclear test “aimed at” the U.S. on Thursday, one day after the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution condemning its December rocket launch.
South Korea expressed “deep regret,” calling on the North to refrain from further provocations.
“In the new phase of our century-long anti-U.S. struggle, we do not hide that various satellites, long-range rockets that we will continue to launch and a high-level nuclear test we will conduct will target our sworn enemy, the United States,” the North’s National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
On Tuesday, the 15-country council approved a fresh resolution and expanded its sanctions against the communist state. An enraged Pyongyang immediately vowed to end denuclearization efforts and bolster its “nuclear deterrence.”
Glyn Davies, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, warned that another weapons test would be a “mistake and missed opportunity.”
But he said the U.S. is “still open to authentic and credible negotiations to implement the Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement” on denuclearization on the peninsula, which the North declared null on Wednesday.
“We’re willing to extend our hand if Pyongyang chooses the path of peace and progress by letting go of its nuclear programs and multi-stage missiles,” he told reporters in Seoul.
Davies also stressed the need to defusing cross-border tension as a must for a better relationship between Pyongyang and Washington.
“(It’s) very important that North-South relations improve and that’s very much up to Pyongyang to accept the overtures that it receives, not to further provoke South Korea,” the envoy said.
“Without sustained improvement in inter-Korean relations, U.S.-DPRK ties cannot fundamentally improve; this is why talks in Seoul are important.”
Davies arrived here Wednesday for talks with Seoul officials over their next steps to follow up on the Security Council decision, such as separate standalone sanctions.
He met with his South Korean counterpart Lim Sung-nam, Unification Minister Yoo Woo-ik, presidential national security secretary Chun Yung-woo and members of President-elect Park Geun-hye’s transition team including Yun Byung-se.
Davies was accompanied by Clifford Hart, special envoy for the six-party denuclearization talks, and Sydney Seiler, Korea director on the White House’s National Security Council. They will visit China and Japan later this week.
During his talks with Lim, he reiterated Washington’s “willingness to resolve the nuclear standoff through engagement,” a Foreign Ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
His two-day trip comes amid increasing signs of North Korea’s imminent third nuclear test.
South Korean intelligence sees the North as technically ready to test another fission bomb at its Punggye site with a tunnel and related equipment installed.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that North Korea is “capable of testing its atomic weapons if the leadership decides to do so.”
After analyzing satellite images, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on Dec. 27 that the regime has repaired flood damage at its test site and may be able to trigger a detonation in as little as two weeks.
“Pyongyang is determined to maintain a state of readiness at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site where a third test is expected even in the dead of winter.” the 38 North think tank said on its blog.
“I think they have a history of doing provocations after the inauguration of South Korean presidents. It certainly does concern me,” Victor Cha, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Korea Herald.
“And the pattern of the new government in North Korea is that we see provocations and they’re actually coming much closer together.”
China’s president-in-waiting Xi Jinping called for the resumption of six-party talks during his meeting with Park’s special envoys led by Kim Moo-sung.
Xi, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, reiterated that tension should be eased through “dialogue and consultation so as to achieve the denuclearization of the peninsula and its long-term stability,” according to China’s official Xinhua.
Kim also said Wednesday that Xi expressed his opposition to North Korea’s development of nuclear programs and other weapons of mass destruction.
Beijing’s endorsement of the new U.N. decision was a move away from its usually rigid stance against compulsory measures targeting Pyongyang, its ally.
Li Baodong, Chinese ambassador to the U.N., said the Security Council’s response should be “prudent, moderate and conducive to peace and stability on the peninsula,” calling Resolution 2087 “generally balanced.”
“Sanctions and only just resolution alone does not work,” he said after the vote. “The resolution must be accompanied, supplemented by diplomatic efforts.”
By Shin Hyon-hee