, SEOUL,May 26 – North Korea was reportedly on the verge of test-firing more missiles, a move set to fuel tensions after its second nuclear weapons test drew condemnation around the globe.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to consider the options after Pyongyang’s test of a nuclear device on Monday, which according to Russian estimates was almost as powerful as the atom bombs that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Council called the test a "clear violation" of international law and immediately began working on a new resolution that could impose new sanctions on the secretive North, which has now tested two nuclear bombs in three years.
"This resolution should include new sanctions in addition to those already adopted because such behaviour should have a cost and a price to pay," said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the deputy French ambassador to the United Nations.
Russia estimated the force of Monday’s underground explosion at up to 20 kilotons, far more powerful than the October 2006 test that announced the impoverished communist state had joined the club of world nuclear powers.
The North said the latest test would "contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism, and ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the region."
North Korea has repeatedly said it needs a deterrent to ward off an attack by the United States, which it believes wants to topple Kim Jong-Il’s regime, and almost six years of disarmament talks have not stopped its nuclear drive.
In April it test-fired a long-range rocket that critics say was in fact a ballistic missile, and on Monday it test-fired three short-range missiles after the nuclear test .
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the North was preparing to fire more short-range missiles on Tuesday or Wednesday, citing a government source in Seoul who said Pyongyang had declared part of the Yellow Sea off-limits to ships.
Some analysts have suggested that Kim is using the nuclear test to strengthen his hand at home and so could be even less swayed than usual by more sanctions or international criticism.
The 67-year-old was widely reported to have suffered a stroke last August, prompting speculation overseas about the succession. The North’s position has noticeably hardened since then.
"This is part of Kim shoring up support for his regime among the inner circle and the public," Peter Beck, a Korea expert at the American University in Washington, told AFP.
"The internal domestic dynamic is taking precedence over external factors."
Even China, a permanent member of the Security Council and the North’s sole main ally, was strongly critical of the latest test — which North Korea had pledged to carry out because of previous censure from the Council.
"Disregarding the common objections of the international community, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has again tested a nuclear device," China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
"The Chinese government expresses its resolute opposition to this," it said.
US President Barack Obama , whose initial overtures to the North since taking office in January have been met with official hostility from Pyongyang, condemned what he called its "reckless" atomic test.
"North Korea’s nuclear ballistic missile programmes pose a great threat to the peace and security of the world," he said.
The White House said Obama was consulting with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to try to coordinate the international response.
South Korea meanwhile announced it was joining the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an international effort to curb trade in weapons of mass destruction that involves some 90 nations and include military exercises.
North Korea had previously said that it would see the South’s participation as a declaration of war.