WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama assailed North Korea Monday for new missile tests, saying the world must "stand up to" Pyongyang and demand that it honor a promise to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Appearing on the White House steps, Obama said that its latest nuclear underground test and subsequent test firings of short-range ground to air missiles "pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action."
It was his second statement within hours on the tests, the latest in a number of nuclear actions that Obama said "endanger the people of Northeast Asia." He called it "a blatant violation of international law" and said that it contradicted North Korea's "own prior commitments." Obama had released a written statement chastising the North Koreans in the early morning hours of Monday.
Tests denounced by China, Russia
In his statement before cameras and microphones arrayed in the White House Rose Garden at mid-morning, he noted that the latest tests had also been denounced by China and Russia and had drawn the scorn of many around the world. Pyongyang's actions "have flown in the face of U.N. resolutions" and had deepened its isolation, he said, "inviting stronger international pressure."
"North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons," the president said. "We will work with our friends and allies to stand up to this behavior. The United States will never waver from our determination to protect our people and the peace and security of the world."
In Pyongyang, North Korea said that it had carried out a powerful underground nuclear test — much larger than one conducted in 2006. The regime also test-fired three short-range, ground-to-air missiles later Monday from the same northeastern site where it launched a rocket last month, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.
Condemned by U.N. Security Council
The rocket liftoff, widely believed to be a cover for a test of its long-range missile technology, drew censure from the U.N. Security Council, which after a special meeting Monday condemned North Korea's nuclear test as a clear violation of its resolutions.
The council said in a statement Monday that it will begin work immediately on a new legally binding resolution addressing North Korea's violations.
The U.N.'s most powerful body held the emergency meeting at Japan's request.
Reining in Pyongyang's nuclear program has been a continuing problem for U.S. administrations, dating to Bill Clinton's presidency in the 1990s. Former President George W. Bush labeled North Korea as a country that was part of an international "axis of evil," but the United States subsequently removed Pyongyang from its list of official state sponsors of terrorism when it shut down a nuclear installation late in the Bush administration.
Looking at available options
The question now is calculating precisely the nature of a threat and what are options are available to the Obama administration.
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Obama left no doubt about his intention to work with other world leaders to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Pyongyang, and the United States could still try to resuscitate so-called Six-Party talks with the North as well as work with other nations at the United Nations. And while neither past administrations nor this one has taken the military option off the table, diplomacy seemed the card most likely to be played in the short term.
'Engaged in intensive diplomacy'
At the State Department, officials said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was "engaged in intensive diplomacy" on the issue.
It said in a statement that she "has been in regular consultation with our Six Party partners," spoke with her counterparts in Japan and South Korea and planned to speak later Monday with officials in China and Russia.
"In her conversations, the secretary stressed the importance of a strong, unified approach to this threat to international peace and security," State said. The statement said that Clinton "reiterated our commitment to regional security and to our alliances."
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last month dismissed an earlier rocket launch as a failure — both technologically and as an effort to market its missiles to other countries.
"Would you buy from somebody that had failed three times in a row and never been successful?" he asked during a briefing at the Pentagon. Cartwright said the abortive missile launch showed that North Korea had failed to master the midair thrust shift from one rocket booster to another, an integral part of ballistic missile technology.
'A grave threat to the United States'
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CBS's "The Early Show" show that "all of those things point to a country I think continues to destabilize that region and in the long term, should they continue to develop a nuclear weapons program, poses a grave threat to the United States."
He did not discuss whether there were any changes in U.S. military alert status.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leading a congressional delegation on a tour in China, said, "If today's announcement is true, these tests would be a clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which requires that North Korea not conduct any further nuclear tests. Such action by North Korea is unacceptable and cause for great alarm."
Wendy Sherman, a former Clinton administration adviser on North Korean policy, told The Associated Press: "We're sending the message that there is international law; there are international norms; that countries will be isolated from the international community."
"U.S. officials had expected that North Korea might conduct a second nuclear test," she said. "That said, this is as President Obama said, 'of grave concern.' "
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