N. Korea's No. 2 Official Warns of Further Tests
Thursday, October 12, 2006
SEOUL, Oct. 11 -- North Korea's second most powerful political figure, Kim Yong Nam, indicated Wednesday that the communist state would carry out further nuclear tests if the United States did not change what he called its "hostile attitude."
In an interview with Japan's Kyodo news service in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, Kim also dismissed the impact that any economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council would have on his impoverished country. "Even as economic sanctions increase by day, our economy in general has entered a rising trend," he was quoted as saying.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, declaring that his country is "in gravest danger," moved Wednesday to ban imports from North Korea and stop North Korean ships and citizens from coming to Japan.
Kim's remarks were the first public comment from a high-ranking North Korean official since the secretive government announced a nuclear test on Monday. He added that North Korea would refuse to return to stalled six-party talks aimed at its nuclear disarmament unless the United States dropped sanctions imposed in September 2005 that target North Korea's alleged counterfeiting and other illegal businesses.
The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said North Korea would consider increased U.S. pressure "a declaration of a war."
Analysts have said the explosion detected in North Korea's barren northeast on Monday was small enough to suggest that the test partially failed or was not in fact nuclear. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a parliamentary panel that Japan had unconfirmed information that another test might be coming.
"The issue of future nuclear tests is linked to U.S. policy toward our country," Kim told Kyodo on Wednesday. "If the United States continues to take a hostile attitude and apply pressure on us in various forms, we will have no choice but to take physical steps to deal with that."
As president of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, North Korea's one-party parliament, Kim is considered second in influence only to the country's absolute ruler, Kim Jong Il.
Across northeast Asia, the nuclear issue continued to keep people on edge, particularly after seismic activity on Wednesday was initially reported as a possible second nuclear test. It was later found to have been generated by an earthquake in northern Japan.
Japan has joined the United States in leading the call for more pressure on Pyongyang. Sanctions that were approved by Japan's national security council are on track to be formally adopted by the cabinet on Friday, and would likely precede any action by the U.N. Security Council.
In September, Japan began limiting money transfers from 16 entities suspected of having ties with North Korea's nuclear and weapons development programs. The scope of those sanctions is expected to be widened to include remittances to North Korea from Japan that analysts say total as much as $900 million a year.
"Japan will be most affected security-wise by this North Korean issue," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters in Tokyo. "We decided on this sanction based on Japan's independent thinking and judgment, taking into consideration the significance" of the professed nuclear test.
Tokyo has taken steps in recent years to curb financial dealings with Pyongyang over various disputes. Total trade of about $180 million in 2005 was about half the figure in 2002, according to Japan's Finance Ministry.
Japanese leaders dismissed fears that their country might now engage in a nuclear arms race. That continues to be politically untenable in Japan, given World War II memories of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "There will be no change in our nonnuclear arms principles," Abe told reporters in Tokyo. "We want to seek a solution through peaceful and diplomatic means."
In South Korea, President Roh Moo Hyun -- long counted among the North's most staunch defenders -- continued to distance himself from the Pyongyang government. "North Korea says the reason it is pursuing nuclear [weapons] is for its security, but the security threat North Korea speaks of either does not exist in reality, or is very exaggerated," the semiofficial Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.
The South Korean government announced late Wednesday that it would consider joining the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, launched in 2003 and aimed at stopping ships at sea suspected of smuggling weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has been considered a main target of the initiative.
Defense Minister Yoon Kwang Ung told parliament that Seoul might enlarge its conventional arsenal if North Korea is ultimately proved to have nuclear weapons.