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(News Focus) N. Korea's nuke test presents major security challenge for Park, Obama
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- Defying international warnings, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test with what it calls a "miniaturized" device, presenting a major security challenge for South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama.

   North Korea, which has a track record of testing new leaders in both South Korea and the U.S. over the past two decades, chose Tuesday, the day of Obama's State of the Union address in Washington, as the date for the nuclear test, which also comes about two weeks before Park takes office.

   South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to take "swift and unified" action at the U.S. Security Council over the North's nuclear test, but it's far from clear what diplomatic or other actions the world community will take.

   "Minister Kim and U.S. Secretary of State Kerry held a emergency consultation by telephone and agreed to take a swift and unified action at the U.N. Security Council," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said, warning that North Korea will face "stern" measures by the Security Council.

   The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday (New York time), Cho said.

   North Korea's state media confirmed that it has successfully carried out a third nuclear test, using a "miniaturized" device that yielded a greater explosive force than previous tests. Seoul's defense ministry estimated the yield at 6 to 7 kilotons.

   One kiloton is comparable to the explosive force of about 1,000 tons of TNT and analysts believe that the North's first nuclear test in 2006 had a yield of about 1 kiloton.

   Besides the greater explosive force than previous tests, the North's suggestion of a "miniaturized" nuclear device is alarming analysts in South Korea. Before the announcement, few analysts believed that Pyongyang had mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear warhead smaller and put it atop a missile.

   Ahead of the latest nuclear test, North Korea had vowed to conduct it in response to the U.N. Security Council resolution tightening sanctions against the country as punishment for its December rocket launch. The North previously detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

   Analysts said the North's nuclear test made it difficult for Seoul and Washington to launch any new diplomatic efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.

   Chun Chae-sung, a professor of international relations at Seoul National University, said that South Korea and the U.S. "will have no choice but to take a strong measure against North Korea in the wake of the third nuclear test."

   Another analyst said no policy efforts could stop North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon in the aftermath of the third nuclear test.

   Yun Duk-min, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said, "With North Korea's third nuclear test, it became a fait accompli that military forces between South and North Korea are at an asymmetric state."

   "Unless we have means to deter North Korea's asymmetric force, no policy toward North Korea could work," Yun said.

   President-elect Park, who pledged greater engagement with North Korea than her predecessor, strongly condemned the North's nuclear test.

   "I strongly condemn North Korea's third nuclear test that was carried out in spite of strong warnings from us and the international community," Park said, according to her spokeswoman.

   "North Korea's nuclear test is a grave threat to the Korean Peninsula and international peace, hampers inter-Korean trust-building and undermines efforts for peace," Park said, adding her incoming government will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea "under any circumstances."

   kdh@yna.co.kr
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