N. Korea Claims Nuclear Test

By Anthony Faiola, Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 9, 2006

TOKYO, Oct. 9 -- North Korea declared on Monday that it had conducted its first nuclear test in defiance of international calls for restraint, claiming its place as the world's newest nuclear power.

South Korean geological officials said they detected a significant man-made explosion in the barren northeast of the peninsula that appeared to substantiate the Pyongyang government's claim.

The Seoul government officials informed U.S. officials that the explosion, registering 3.58 on the Richter scale, had taken place at 10:36 a.m. local time. Minutes later, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency announced the test, calling it "a historical event that has brought our military and our people huge joy."

U.S. intelligence officials said they were working quickly to compile a profile of the event, but that confirmation would likely not come until early morning in Washington. A U.S. intelligence source said satellite imagery, intercepts and seismic readings will all be used to piece together a portrait of the test and gather information that will enhance understanding of the North's actual capabilities.

Today's test appeared linked to the ninth anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's appointment as head of the Korean Workers' Party. And it came just one day before South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon will face a vote on his bid to become the next secretary general of the United Nations.

The test alters the balance of power in northeast Asia and touches off grave new concerns about the proliferation of refined nuclear material or devices to other rogue states or terrorist groups. North Korea, a secretive communist state which strictly limits all contact with the outside world, already generates tens of millions of dollars a year through its thriving underground sales of missiles and other sophisticated weaponry to nations including Iran and Syria."

It was also set to bring Pyongyang's four-year standoff with Washington over its nuclear programs to a head. U.S. intelligence sources said the Bush administration is talking about immediate naval action around North Korea. "This won't exactly be a blockade, which is an act of war. But we could stop and inspect all ships in and out of North Korea," one senior U.S. government official said.

China responded to news of the test with strong language Monday. "The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK," Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

U.S. officials had braced for the test Sunday after they received an early warning from China, sources said. The Chinese government told U.S. officials late Sunday that Pyongyang had informed Beijing that a test would take place at about 10 p.m. EST.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that he could not confirm that a nuclear test had occurred and deferred questions about a potential response to the White House.

"If there was a test, obviously it would further isolate them from the international community," Whitman said. "If they conducted a test, it changes the dynamics."

Asked about a change in the military's defense posture, Whitman said, "I wouldn't get into alert statuses or anything like that."

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