Heightened alert for North’s next move after test

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Heightened alert for North’s next move after test

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After North Korea’s third nuclear test, eyes are on what the next strategy of the reclusive regime will be, while UN Security Council members, including its close ally China, are ratcheting up preparations for stronger sanctions.

Pyongyang has said via its state media that this test succeeded in producing “miniaturized, lighter” nuclear bombs, which could be technically put atop a long-range ballistic rocket.

The regime’s newly-launched ballistic rocket Unha-3 can send a payload up to 13,000 kilometers (8,077 miles), which would be able to reach any U.S. territory, analysts assumed.

The North’s Foreign Ministry warned in a statement on Tuesday that they could “stage a stronger second, third response in consecutive steps if the U.S. keeps its hostility to the end and complicates the circumstances.”

“It means if the international community imposes tougher sanctions, North Korea will make a stronger response,” a South Korean government official told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “And that stronger response could be various - an additional nuclear weapons test, cyberattack, or another military provocations, such as the shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island, or other actions beyond our imagination. We consider all possibilities.

“North Korea wants a negotiation with [the U.S.] after it is recognized as a nuclear-armed state by the international community,” the official said. “But what we ask North Korea is to abandon the nuclear weapon first and talk later.”

“North Korea appears to be trying to win negotiations with Washington by escalating military tensions,” Shim Beom-chul, director of North Korean Military Studies at the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis, an institute under the Ministry of National Defense, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“Their next step could be apparently another provocation - a long-range missile launch, a fourth nuclear test, or localized fighting. What they want is a disarmament negotiation, which is not an option for South Korea.”

South Korean officials predicted after the rocket launch in December that a third nuclear test was almost certainly on its way. Now, the South Korean military see a possibility of an additional nuclear test, just like India or Pakistan that conducted several nuclear tests in a month in the 1990s.

In order to prevent any further military provocations, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said on Tuesday at a legislative meeting that the military is mulling a pre-emptive strike against any missile or nuclear asset, if they spot any provocative moves.

“A nuclear weapon is an absolute weapon and the damage caused by a nuclear bomb is beyond your imagination,” Kim said. “A pre-emptive strike [against any missile or nuclear asset] is the best option.”

Military officials of South Korea and the United States will convene a meeting of the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee in Washington, DC, next week to discuss further measures in reaction to the North’s third nuclear test, a source told Yonhap News Agency, including whether they will stage a pre-emptive attack of a possible nuclear North Korean weapon.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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