US Says Nuclear Threat Deepens N. Korea’s Isolation

SEOUL ~ The United States told North Korea it is only deepening its isolation with vows to conduct a second nuclear test, as analysts said Pyongyang is playing all its cards to force Washington into negotiations.

Late on Wednesday, the communist state sharply raised the stakes in the dispute over its weapons programmes – vowing nuclear and missile tests unless the United Nations apologises for condemning its recent rocket launch.

The US State Department ruled out any such UN response.

“I don’t think you’ll see an apology from the Security Council,” said spokesman Robert Wood. “Let me just say very clearly that these threats only further isolate the North.”

“The North needs to come back to the (negotiating) table.”

South Korea’s foreign ministry expressed “grave concern,” calling the North’s statement an “outright challenge” to the international community’s unified decision.

“All the responsibility for consequences rests with the North,” it said, urging Pyongyang to return to six-party disarmament talks.

The statement from Pyongyang’s foreign ministry further raised regional tensions after the April 5 rocket launch. Pyongyang said it put a peaceful satellite into orbit while other nations saw a disguised missile test.

The UN Security Council condemned the launch, and ordered tougher enforcement of sanctions imposed in 2006 after the North’s missile launch and first nuclear test earlier that year.

That test was seen as only partially successful.

The North reacted angrily to the Security Council statement, announcing it was quitting a six-nation nuclear disarmament pact and restarting the plants at Yongbyon that produced weapons-grade plutonium.

“The North knows very well it is demanding the impossible (from the UN). It’s only building up justifications for nuclear and ballistic missile tests,” Professor Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said.

Given that supplies of reprocessed fissile material are already available, it may be only months away from a second nuclear test, Yang said.

It may take a few months to assemble another long-range rocket, he said.

“However, the timing for all these will depend on how the US will react,” he said. “Depending on what will come of negotiations, it may even return to disarmament talks.”

Analysts have said the North wants direct negotiations with the United States rather than the six-nation process, which also involves South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.

Paik Hak-Soon of the Sejong Institute think-tank said that as time goes by, the chances of disarming the North through talks are getting slimmer.

“The big problem is that amid the lack of a diplomatic control mechanism, the North will continue expanding its nuclear arsenal, making denuclearisation harder and pushing the region toward a new arms race,” he said.

Paik said the North is demanding a new and higher plane for negotiations with Washington to replace the six-party talks, which have been “mired in technicalities” concerning verification since last year.

“The North is pushing for a new package deal to resolve all the issues at the same time,” he said.

Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea studies professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said Wednesday the North has the ability to conduct a second nuclear test if it chooses.

“However, I still believe North Korea will try to use this as a bargaining chip,” he said.

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