North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests


North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target theUnited States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its “sworn enemy”.

The announcement by the country’s top military body came a day after the U.N. Security Council agreed to a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction North Korea for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be “technically ready” for a thirdnuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un, who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.

China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the U.S.-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang’s two earliernuclear tests.

Thursday’s statement by North Korea represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition, with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.

China’s Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out North Korea, urging the “relevant party” not to take any steps that would raise tensions.

“We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.

North Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. TheUnited States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.

“After all these years and numerous rounds of six-party talks we can see that China’s influence overNorth Korea is actually very limited. All China can do is try to persuade them not to carry out their threats,” said Cai Jian, an expert on Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former rulerKim Jong-il’s Feb 16 birthday.

(Reuters)