N. Korea Conducts 'Successful' Underground Nuclear Test

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 25, 2009

TOKYO, May 25 -- North Korea exploded a nuclear device Monday morning, which is its second underground test in three years and is part of a pattern of escalating belligerence this year that has included a missile launch and withdrawal from all nuclear negotiations.

The communist state's official Korean Central News Agency described the test as "successful." It occurred at 9:45 a.m. in a northeast part of the country near where the first test was conducted in October 2006, according to reports from the South Korean government.

"The republic has conducted another underground nuclear testing successfully in order to strengthen our defensive nuclear deterrence," the North Korean news agency said.

The explosion produced a 4.7-magnitude tremor, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The previous nuclear test registered 3.58 on the Richter scale.

"We are aware of the reports of a nuclear test by North Korea," a State Department official said late Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the test was not yet confirmed. "We are consulting with our allies. Once we have established the facts, we will have more to say."

The test challenges the Obama administration, which came into office saying it was eager to make progress on the nuclear impasse with North Korea.

The president appointed a special envoy, Stephen Bosworth, who has signaled he is willing to begin bilateral talks with Pyongyang, as well as continue negotiations in a six-nation disarmament forum. North Korea has rejected talks, accusing Washington of continuing the Bush administration's "hostile policy."

Pyongyang may be calculating that it will gain diplomatically from a test. The 2006 explosion pushed the Bush administration to negotiate directly with North Korea, including removing it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons.

North Korea began threatening late last month to explode another nuclear device after the U.N. Security Council condemned its April 5 launch of a long-range missile.

The country is believed to have enough plutonium to make six to eight bombs. Last month it said it would reopen its plutonium factory at Yongbyon to produce more.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington and special correspondent Stella Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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