North Korea Nuclear Test Harms U.S. Relations

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Reports out of South Korea say North Korea launched tests Tuesday of two more short-range missiles. On Monday, North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb underground. The tests signal that Pyongyang has lost interest in its pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene sitting in for Renee Montagne.

Yesterday's nuclear test raises the question of what outsiders always face when they consider North Korea. That question is exactly why North Korea's leaders do what they do.

INSKEEP: That leads to a related question of exactly what North Korea wants, and we'll consider both questions this morning. North Korea followed up its nuclear test by launching two more ballistic missiles today, and that may signal its leadership has lost interest in its pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons. We begin this morning with NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: North Korea informed the State Department of yesterday's nuclear tests just about an hour before the blast. Apparently it wasn't expecting any particular response. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry is visiting Beijing and he said that if Pyongyang was trying to pressure Washington to negotiate, it made the wrong move.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman): North Korea didn't have to test the nuclear weapons to get the Obama administration into talks. The Obama administration and the Congress have indicated the willingness to engage with countries all around the world.

KUHN: Kerry said he was confident that North Korea could be persuaded to rejoin nuclear negotiations but not right after its nuclear test.

Sen. KERRY: I don't think you'll reward it by immediately going back to the table and having talks.

KUHN: North Korea conducted a second day of missile tests today, launching a surface to air and a surface to ship missile from its east coast, according to the South's Yonhap News Agency. The South said it would join the U.S. led Proliferations Security Initiative to intercept planes and ships that might be carrying weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has warned that would be tantamount to a declaration of war. Pyongyang's recent moves are increasing doubts that it may be willing to negotiate away its nuclear arsenal. Professor Paik Hak-Soon, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Sejong Institute, argues that North Korea is trying to push the U.S. away from the disarmament issue and towards providing security guarantees. From North Korea's perspective, he says...

Professor PAIK HAK SOON (Sejong Institute, South Korea): The only focus was on how to denuclearize North Korea. And United States, in a sense, has been successful in bringing North Korea down to such technical issues like verification and sampling, which was totally unacceptable to North Korean leadership.

KUHN: China today restated its strong opposition to the test, but it remains divided on how to respond. While diplomats are heavily invested in hosting the six-party talks, some Chinese experts are calling for tougher measures against an old ally. Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at the Communist Party's central party school says all options, including military ones, should remain on the table.

Mr. ZHANG LIANGUI (Central Party School, China): (Through Translator) The North Korean nuclear issue cannot be resolved through persuasion or negotiation. Kim Jong Il and his policies are already set on developing nuclear weapons. He's staked his personal political survival on it.

KUHN: The U.S., South Korea and Japan have all said they'll push for tougher UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. Zhang Liangui explains why Pyongyang could care less about more sanctions.

Mr. LIANGUI: (Through Translator) In North Korea, the policymakers aren't short of rice to eat. Those who lack rice don't make policy. Sanctions will only make things tougher for ordinary North Koreans, they won't affect Kim Jong-il.

KUHN: North Korean state media had initially suspended their rhetorical attacks on Washington, following President Obama's election. But today, state media restated an old warning, saying that Washington would be courting disaster if it attempted a preemptive attack on North Korea. Pyongyang has already said that as far as it's concerned, the Obama administration is no different from the Bush administration.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from