North Korean Nuclear Test Would Be "A Very Provocative Act"

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Should North Korea make good on its threat to test nuclear weapons, it would be regarded as “a very provocative act” that would “create a qualitatively different situation on the Korean Peninsula,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said October 3.

Speaking at a press availability in Egypt, Rice said a potential North Korean nuclear test and its continuing nuclear activities present “a quite serious issue for the entire neighborhood,” as well as the United States.

“They have not yet done it, but I think it would be a very provocative act,” she said, and if Pyongyang’s threat is carried out, “a number of states in the region would need to reassess even where they are now with North Korea.”

The White House said it is “seriously concerned” by the announcement, made earlier in the day, and said it would be a “reckless action,” according to a statement by deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino.

“Such an action would be directly contrary to the interests of all of North Korea's neighbors and to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region,” she said, as well “as severely undermine our confidence in North Korea's commitment to denuclearization.”

North Korea’s interlocutors in the Six Party Talks - Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, and the United States, are seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula “through peaceful, diplomatic means,” she said,

The five countries are continuing to push for the implementation of the September 19, 2005, Joint Statement offering North Korea “a clear path to a positive future and concrete benefits in return for carrying out its commitment to denuclearize,” and encourage Pyongyang to return to talks, “most recently offering a Six Party Ministerial meeting in Malaysia to allow the North Koreans a high-level venue in which to express their concerns,” Perino said. 

However, “To our disappointment, North Korea continues to reject these efforts, refuses to carry out its commitment in the September 2005 Joint Statement to denuclearize, and has refused to return to the Six Party Talks for 11 months,” Perino said. (See related article.)

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said there is “real consensus in the international community” against North Korea’s nuclear activities and its threat to test nuclear weapons.

On July 15, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1695 with a unanimous 15-0 vote in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile tests earlier that month. (See related article.)

Casey said that the resolution included a requirement for states to take action “to do what they could to prevent activities that would support the development not only of North Korea's … missile program but of North Korea's nuclear weapons and [weapons of mass destruction] program as well.”

“Clearly everyone wants to see a denuclearized Korean peninsula. And anything that takes us further away from that goal is obviously unhelpful and certainly, if it takes the form of an actual nuclear test, would be provocative and something that would be a threat to peace and security in the region,” Casey said.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has spoken with Japanese, Korean and European officials about the issue, he said, and “I suspect he'll soon be speaking with his Russian and Chinese counterparts.”


U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton held talks at the Security Council October 3 and said afterward that he had urged the council to engage in “preventative diplomacy.”  He said the United States wants a “coherent strategy” developed to convince North Korea that its proposed nuclear testing is not in the country’s interest.

“North Korea should be more concerned about silence from the Security Council today than if we had issued a four-sentence press statement, because I hope it indicates that we will take very seriously what we said in Resolution 1695 about North Korea's programs and weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” Bolton said.

The ambassador said the Security Council must decide if it will have a “value-added” approach that builds on Resolution 1695, which already has called on North Korea to refrain from further provocative acts and to resume its participation in the Six-Party Talks.

North Korea has yet to comply with Resolution 1695, to return to the Six-Party Talks, or to move away from their pursuit of nuclear weapons.  “If anything, the announcement today shows exactly the opposite,” he said.

He added that the council members had agreed to hold a “brainstorming session” in New York October 4 to develop a coherent policy, after consulting with their respective capitals.


Congressman James Leach (Republican from Iowa), who is chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said a North Korean nuclear test “would have ramifications for strategic stability in northeast Asia as well as for arms control,” and called for the international community to “assess options.”

“At issue is North Korean intent; also at issue are the potential domino effects on the nuclearization of other countries,” he said in an October 3 statement.

Leach said China is the “only country that can put credible economic pressure” on North Korea.

“It will be interesting to see how China responds to the prospect of North Korean nuclear testing.  The implications for U.S.-Chinese as well as Chinese-North Korean relations are large,” he said.

He also called on the international community to find a way to “defuse the paranoid mindset of the North,” and suggested “widespread dialogue, preferably including the North.”

Leach expressed his support for pursuing the agreement of September 19, 2005, but warned against “escalat[ing] the rhetoric of confrontation.”  He questioned the Bush administration’s refusal to engage North Korea in bilateral talks, as opposed to operating “exclusively in the six-party process.”

But he also questioned whether “any kind of diplomatic initiative make[s] a difference with the North?”

The full text of the White House statement can be found at the White House Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula and Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.