Monday, May 25, 2009

Pentagon Comments on North Korean Nuclear Test

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2009 -- The nation’s top military officer today denounced reported nuclear tests by North Korea overnight, saying it is part of the country’s “growing belligerence” in the international community.

Broadcasting this morning from the Pentagon, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on the major network morning shows. The chairman typically is interviewed as part of the networks’ Memorial Day coverage.

But the reported nuclear tests quickly overshadowed the chairman’s message of troops’ and families’ sacrifices, and turned to questions about any proposed U.S. military response and whether it could afford another conflict on top of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to news reports, North Korea claims it carried out a powerful underground nuclear test, much larger than previous such tests, to “bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense."

Mullen said Pentagon officials could not yet confirm the reports of the tests, but said they were expected.

“It does … speak to the growing belligerence of North Korea, the growing isolation of a country that continues to defy the international norm and international law and actually the growing concern that I and many others have for their ability to destabilize a really vital region of the world,” he said.

Mullen said the test was not “unanticipated” and said it is one more step by North Korean leader Kim Jong II to further isolate the country internationally.

“It’s a country that … continues to isolated itself and the international community certainly must continue to bring pressure on to ensure that in the long run they don’t achieve a nuclear weapons program that could threaten the region and actually threaten the United States as well,” he said.

Mullen said the six-party talks, in place to attempt a peaceful resolution to the security concerns of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, are especially critical moving forward after this reported test.

North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States make up the six parties. The talks have been stalled since the United Nations Security Council condemned North Korea in April for a failed missile test. Following the condemnation North Korea expelled United Nations inspectors from the country.

Mullen also said that the test puts North Korea in a position where its own security position is on less stable ground internationally.

“As [Jong] becomes more and more defiant I think he puts himself in a much more difficult position while he clearly continues to try to seek this … very dangerous capability of a nuclear weapons program,” he said.

Mullen said though that diplomatic efforts should be continued, but expressed confidence that the U.S. military can deal with any threat posed by North Korea.

“The issue of a third war would be a huge challenge. We’ve got reserve capacity in our military, a very strong Navy, a very strong Air Force. So I would not want anybody to think that we don’t have the capacity to respond, even though our military is very, very pressed and very, very stretched right now,” he said.

(Report by Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service.)

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