The White House said North Korea’s threat to conduct a nuclear weapons test is “needlessly provocative” and will lead to further isolation and sanctions.
“We judge North Korea by its actions, and provocations like these are significant violations and we act accordingly,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “We certainly haven’t seen a noticeable change in behavior” by the North Korean regime.
Carney didn’t specify what actions President Barack Obama’s administration would take if North Korea follows through with its threat to test more long-range rockets and a nuclear device in defiance of United Nations declarations.
North Korea, declaring the U.S. as “the sworn enemy of the Korean people,” said earlier today it will launch “a variety of satellites and long-range rockets” and carry out “a nuclear test of higher level,” according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The threat follows an expansion of UN sanctions on Jan. 22 after North Korea’s December launch of a long-range rocket. Sanctions were supported by China, its closest ally.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, asked today whether the U.S. has seen signs that a nuclear test or missile launch was imminent, said there were “no outward indications.”
“But that doesn’t tell you much,” he said at a briefing. “They have the capability, frankly, to conduct these tests in a way that make it very difficult to determine whether or not they are doing it.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has worked to bolster his legitimacy since inheriting the position from his late father in December 2011 by continuing a military-first policy while seeking to boost an impoverished economy.
Six-nation talks to defuse tensions involving the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia haven’t been held since December 2008.
North Korea has enough plutonium to produce four to eight basic nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea’s atomic uranium-enrichment and other atomic facilities in 2010.