By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
May 25, 2009 - The president and the nation's top military officer today denounced North Korea's claim that it carried out a powerful underground nuclear test, much larger than previous such tests, to "bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense." "North Korea's nuclear ballistic missile programs pose a great threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action," Obama told reporters this morning in the White House Rose Garden.
North Korea's actions they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea's own prior commitments, he said.
"The record is clear: North Korea has previously committed to abandoning its nuclear program," Obama said. "Instead of following through on that commitment it has chosen to ignore that commitment. These actions have also flown in the face of United Nations resolutions.
"As a result, North Korea is not only deepening its own isolation, it's also inviting stronger international pressure -- that's evident overnight, as Russia and China, as well a our traditional allies of South Korea and Japan, have all come to the same conclusion: North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons."
Obama said the international community must take action in response to North Korea's threatening activities.
"We will work with friends and our allies to stand up to this behavior and redouble our efforts toward a more robust international nonproliferation regime that all countries have responsibilities to meet."
"In this effort, the United States will never waiver from our determination to protect our people and the peace and security of the world," he said.
In a statement issued by the White House earlier this morning, the president said U.S. officials have been and will continue working with allies and partners in the Six-Party Talks as well as other members of the U.N. Security Council in the days ahead.
Broadcasting 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.
While Pentagon officials could not yet confirm the reports of the test, Mullen said, it was not "unanticipated."
Mullen said the nuclear test is indicative of "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."
Mullen said the international community "must continue to bring pressure on (North Korea) 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."
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," he said. 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."