North Korea was condemned as a ‘danger to the world’ yesterday after it exploded a nuclear warhead the size of the Hiroshima bomb.
Gordon Brown and Barack Obama led global criticism of the underground blast, which was ten to 20 times more powerful than the Communist state’s first nuclear test in 2006.
Diplomats believe the explosion, which prompted an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, was a calculated attempt by Pyongyang to destabilise the region and shore up its hardline regime.
But the isolated nation appeared to have overreached itself when even China and Russia joined in with the criticism.
Mr Brown swiftly denounced the move as ‘erroneous, misguided and a danger to the world’. The Prime Minister said: ‘This act will undermine prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula and will do nothing for North Korea’s security.
‘The international community will treat North Korea as a partner if it behaves responsibly. If it does not then it can expect only renewed isolation.’
Mr Obama said the nuclear test constituted an act of ‘blatant defiance’ of the UN Security Council, a violation of international law.
The U.S. President added: ‘North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile programme, constitute a threat to international peace and security.’
In a White House address the President pledged to work with allies around the world to ‘stand up to’ North Korea. Tensions had already been running high over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
It was censured by the UN last month for launching a rocket – widely seen as a test for a missile that could carry a nuclear warhead – in breach of a missile test ban.
North Korea claimed it had launched a satellite into space, but the object actually flew over Japan before breaking up into the Pacific. It retaliated to the criticism by expelling UN nuclear inspectors.
Yesterday’s explosion in the country’s north was first detected by seismologists, who said it was a ten to 20 kiloton device that triggered earth tremors measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale that measures the size of earthquakes.
Emergency sirens sounded in the Chinese border city of Yanji, 130 miles from the test site, where residents felt the ground tremble.
The state- controlled Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the regime had ‘successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defence’.
South Koreans reacted to the terrifying news by staging angry street protests against their Stalinist northern neighbour.
Enlarge North Korea carried out the nuclear test at a site six miles underground and 40 miles north-west of Kimchaek in the north-east of the country
Western intelligence analysts and diplomats believe the explosion was designed to attract the attention of the Obama administration.
But it is more likely to lead to further isolation, by halting a recent thawing of relations with the West.
The U.S. had taken North Korea off its list of state sponsors of terrorism after Pyongyang allowed some inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: ‘The test is a provocation that will prevent others from dealing with North Korea as a responsible partner.’
At an anti-North Korean rally, protesters in Seoul, South Korea, burn a mock North Korea nuclear missile and portraits of the country’s leader Kim Jong Il
Foreign Office and U.S. State Department experts believe that the blast is evidence that the hardline military in North Korea is asserting itself as the health of dictator Kim Jong-Il declines.
While the leadership is hard to penetrate and its motives are difficult to read, it is thought that Army chiefs want to reassert their influence before a successor is chosen to Kim, whose position has been on under question since he suffered a stroke last year.
Others think nuclear brinkmanship is a way for Kim to reassert his iron grip on power to ensure that one of his sons is well placed to succeed him.
The Taepoding-1, North Korea’s first generation of long-range ballistic missile. An updated version was fired over Japan two months ago that was capable of striking the U.S., while Pyongyang claimed to have fired a short-range missile
China, the hermit state’s regional benefactor, said it was resolutely opposed to the test, but it was thought to remain opposed to punitive sanctions.
Its foreign ministry said: ‘The Chinese side vehemently demands North Korea abides by its denuclearisation promises, stop any actions which may worsen the situation and return to the six-party talks process.
‘The Chinese government calls on all sides to calmly and appropriately deal with the situation.’
Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday rejected a Western deal for Tehran to freeze its nuclear programme in return for no further sanctions. He ruled out talks on the issue, in a blow to Mr Obama’s attempts to engage with Iran diplomatically.