Rumsfeld Ponders Nuke Test Ramifications

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 5, 2006; 6:31 PM

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday if North Korea successfully tests a nuclear weapon, it will show weakness on the part of the international community.

"And that failure ... is something that the international community would have to register and ask itself how comfortable are we being that ineffective in this situation," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon during a visit by Croatian Defense Minister Berislav Roncevic.

His comments came as U.S. officials warned North Korea anew not to test a nuclear weapon.

"It isn't in their interest and it isn't in anyone's interest," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator on the communist country's nuclear program, told AP Television. "We will not accept a nuclear state."

Rumsfeld also said that a successful North Korean test could prompt other countries to pursue nuclear weapons.

"Because of the ineffectiveness, and the lack of cohesion and the inability to marshal sufficient leverage to prevent North Korea from proceeding toward a nuclear program ... it will kind of lower the threshold, and other countries will step forward with it," Rumsfeld said.

He added that depending on whether the test is above or below ground, the United States has as good a capability of detecting it as any country. But he declined to say whether or not it would trigger any U.S. military action.

"I wouldn't be the person who would make a decision like that. That's a decision for the country, and a decision for president," Rumsfeld said.

The United States has sent a message of "deep concern" to the North through diplomatic channels at the United Nations in New York, Hill said Wednesday, adding that the North Koreans had received it and had not yet responded.

The North Korean announcement gave no date for any test, but U.S. intelligence agencies are keeping close watch over activity at possible test sites in the North, even while cautioning against reading too much into every movement.

The United States and North Korea have no diplomatic relations outside deadlocked six-nation nuclear talks and rarely communicate with each other so directly.

Hill would not discuss policy options, but he said senior U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were in steady communication with their counterparts in Asia and Europe.

In the event of a nuclear test, Hill said, "We would have no choice but to act and act resolutely to make sure (North Korea) understood, and make sure every other country in the world understands, that this is a very bad mistake."

U.S. and international officials also said the U.N. Security Council would consider sanctions against the North if the test occurs.

A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the highly sensitive situation with North Korea, said the United States is now seeing the movement of people, materials and vehicles and other activity around one possible test site. But, the official said, it could be similar to activity seen a couple of months ago. No test occurred then.

The United States has spy satellites and other eavesdropping equipment aimed at North Korea, including ground-based seismic sensors.

While North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may decide to hold the test, it cannot be ruled out that Tuesday's threat was saber-rattling, an effort to force a change in stalled nuclear negotiations or some other motivating factor.


Associated Press writers Barry Schweid, Katherine Shrader and Foster Klug contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press