US warns of ‘forceful response’ to anticipated North Korea nuclear test
- US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman made the remarks on Tuesday as she travelled to Seoul to meet with South Korean and Japanese allies
- Intelligence officials have warned North Korea is all but ready to conduct another detonation at the nuclear testing ground it last used in 2017
US and South Korean officials have said North Korea is all but ready to conduct another detonation at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri, which last hosted a test in September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
While the Biden administration has vowed to push for additional international sanctions if North Korea goes ahead with the nuclear test, the prospects for meaningful new punitive measures are unclear with the United Nations Security Council divided over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“Any nuclear test would be in complete violation of UN Security Council resolutions. There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test,” Sherman said, following a meeting with South Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong.
“We continue to urge Pyongyang to cease its destabilising and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy.”
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Monday there are indications that one of the passages at the Punggye-ri testing ground has been reopened, possibly in preparation for a nuclear test.
Hours before Sherman’s meeting in Seoul, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the United States remains concerned that North Korea could seek is seventh test “in the coming days”.
The Biden administration’s punitive actions over North Korea’s weapons tests in recent months have been limited to largely symbolic unilateral sanctions. Russia and China vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea over its previous ballistic tests on May 25.
“We have called on members of the international community, certainly members of the UN Security Council’s permanent five, to be responsible stakeholders in the UN Security Council as a pre-eminent forum for addressing threats to international peace and security,” Price said.
“Unilateral actions are never going to be the most attractive or even the most effective response, and that is especially the case because we are gratified that we have close allies in the form of Japan and the ROK,” he said, referring to South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.
North Korea has long condemned the allies’ combined military exercises as invasion rehearsals and often countered with its own missile drills, including short-range launches in 2016 and 2017 that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean ports and US military facilities in Japan.
Following the latest North Korean launches, the United States conducted separate joint missile drills with Japan and South Korea, which they said were aimed at displaying their response capability. On Tuesday, the US and South Korean militaries flew 20 fighters jets over the sea to country’s west in a continued show of force.
Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the lifting of crippling US-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament.
Despite facing harsh challenges at home, including a decaying economy and a Covid-19 outbreak, Kim has shown no willingness to fully surrender an arsenal he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offers for open-ended talks and is clearly intent on converting the dormant denuclearisation negotiations into a mutual arms-reduction process, experts say.