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North Korea Announces Underground Nuclear Test

Aired October 8, 2006 - 23:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, breaking news right now at the CNN Center as a South Korean news agency is reporting that North Korea has performed its first test ever of a nuclear weapon. It is already Monday in North Korea.
Let's go to our Sohn Jie-ae. She's standing by in South Korea, in Seoul.

Jie-ae, what do you know about this? Is there any confirmation of this?

SOHN JIE-AE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, what we are hearing is that now the North Korean news agency, the KCNA, is also saying itself that North Korea has successfully conducted a nuclear test. They said that they had done this successfully, safely, without any leakage.

The reports coming from the South Korean media seem to back this. The South Korean media say that there has been a detection of a -- of a -- of some sort of explosion in North Korea, in the northern part of North Korea, and that a South Korean emergency cabinet meeting has been deemed to try to sort out a government reaction to find out exactly what it was in North Korea that was exploded.

There has been no confirmation from South Korea, government official conversation from South Korea, that actual there was a North Korean nuclear tests, but the signs seem to be pointing towards a test of some kind having been conducted in North Korea, Carol.

CAROL LIN, ANCHOR: So Jie-Ae, as this South Korean Security Council meets, what is the question on the table, then?

SOHN: Well, first they have to determine whether it was a nuclear test. Some reports are saying it was -- a report about 3.5 on the Richter scale. Some reports say this is a little too small to be considered a nuclear test, but you have to understand that it was going to be a very underground test. So it couldn't -- might have been that on the surface, the type of tremors that were detected were very low.

So you have to first determine whether the type of explosion that was detected in North Korea could be considered a nuclear test and, of course, then the next step would be what would the South Korean reaction and the next move would be in terms of how to get -- what to react, on the terminology that now North Korea considers itself a nuclear power, Carol.

LIN: What are the options then for South Korea? I mean, once they come to that conclusion? What are their options?

SOHN: Well, there actually are not very many options. South Korea has so far been trying to be conciliatory towards North Korea, trying to say that the dialogue was the way to go, rather than sanctions.

But at this point now they're being forced to take a much more tougher role towards -- stance towards North Korea. They may have to jump on the bandwagon and try to get tougher sanctions against North Korea. South Korea is going to sound a lot tougher than it has in the past.

So we'll have to see how the events in the global scale shape up as the global community tries to deal with a nuclear North Korea, Carol.

LIN: Now North Korea has said that it was going to continue with its nuclear program, basically citing American belligerence and a threat from the west, citing U.S. pressure.

What is the sentiment amongst South Koreans in terms of how much, if any, the United States inadvertently instigated this kind of test?

SOHN: Well, here in South Korea there is a greater understanding for the North Korean predicament, because we are so close to North Korea. There's a long -- there's a more long-term understanding of where North Korea is coming from, and, therefore, they have a much more -- relatively more sympathetic point towards North Korea.

Some here do believe that North Korea is really fighting for regime survival and, therefore, it feels that the greatest threat to their regime's survival is the United States, and they feel they need to be taken seriously by the United States, and they feel that the only way to do, to actually be taken seriously is to have a nuclear weapon.

So there is an understanding of where North Korea is coming from, but whether that understanding leads to actually agreeing with North Korea having a nuclear weapon is another issue altogether, Carol.

LIN: You know, specifically, just two days ago, Friday, here in the United States, the U.N. Security Council specifically warned North Korea against performing a nuclear test. China, one of North Korea's closest allies, has come out and warned North Korea not to conduct this nuclear test.

What are the international implications of this? Of North Korea putting it in the world's face: we're going to do whatever we want, however we see fit, to defend ourselves. What does that say to China? What does it say to Japan? And how does it affect the pressure to develop a nuclear arsenal in the Asian region?

SOHN: Well, it actually make as very clear picture of where everyone stands. Basically, that North Korea is standing all by itself, and it will listen to no one, not even China, not even the United Nations. You have to remember that before, when North Korea tested its -- that it tested its long-range missiles, China specifically asked North Korea not to test it, but North Korea went ahead and tested it anyway.

So North Korea has for a long time made it clear that it listens to no one else but itself. So everyone else now knows their place pretty well.

In terms of what happens next, North Korea will have to see if -- what type of leverage the outside world has on North Korea. They have very little. China has the biggest leverage. South Korea next on. And they will have to see whether China and South Korea is expected to -- will use their leverage to really pressure North Korea to, at this point, suspend its nuclear weapons program from now on. Whether it can or not is a big question, Carol.

LIN: All right. Sohn Jie-Ae, thank you very much. Stand by there on this developing story.

Let's go to CNN's Zain Verjee. She's in Washington, D.C. on the telephone. Zain spent some time along the DMZ between South Korea and North Korea.

Zain, your reaction that this testing, as far as our CNN reporting knows, has actually occurred?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it appears that North Korea has played its ace, and if this turns out to be true concerning it has a bomb and is a nuclear power, this is the nightmare scenario that everybody wanted to avoid.

Experts I've spoken to, Carol, say that North Korea's objective here is to show Washington that Pyongyang will just not be intimidated.

Experts I've spoken to have said, too, that the regime has basically been feeling threatened. They look over what happened in Iraq and at the Bush administration's strategy of regime change. North Korea has made a strategic decision, they say, Carol, to become a nuclear power and guarantee their own security.

LIN: But at what price? I mean, they -- China is a partner in the region. You know, there's considerable trade and relationships. China, not going to be happy about this in the face of its warning to North Korea.

Japan, a -- clearly a military player in the region. Perhaps feeling pressure to develop more of its own nuclear arsenal in self- defense. I mean, to what end are the North Koreans looking in terms of these nuclear tests?

VERJEE: They may be calculating, and it's always hard to know with the North Koreans, because their leader, Kim Jong-Il, is erratic and unpredictable, but they may be calculating that, look, we'll create a crisis and strengthen our negotiating hand and our bargaining power at the table. They've always wanted the U.S.' respect, and this may be a strategy for them to try and force the U.S. into bilaterals.

With regard to China and South Korea, you know, they provide much of the food and the fuel to North Korea, and Pyongyang may be calculating that they may huff and puff but in the end, they're not really going to cut off aid.

With regard to the U.S. as well as China, South Korea and Japan, the North may have calculated that the U.S. has no good military options. Neither does anyone in the region. And were they to be sanctioned -- they're already heavily sanctioned -- Kim Jong-Il may be considering, Well, people in my country are already miserable. It they're a little more miserable, it really doesn't matter. At least we'll have a bomb."

LIN: All right. Zain Verjee. Thank you very much for calling in from Washington, D.C. Zain, having reported along the DMZ for CNN.

Let's get more reaction from the region. Atika Shubert standing by in Tokyo right now.

Atika, is there reaction by the Japanese government?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there -- there hasn't been any official reaction for the moment. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is actually in South Korea right now at a summit there. Among the topics to be discussed is the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea.

We know that Japan's chief cabinet secretary has gone into the prime minister's residence. We are expecting a statement from him shortly.

But of all the countries in the region, Japan perhaps feels the most threatened by the possibility of a nuclear North Korea. And for that reason, you would expect to see Japan reacting to this with alarm and considerable condemnation.

It has already, even before this, been pressing for a U.N. Security Council resolution in which harsh sanctions would be put upon North Korea. We'll have to see what Japan does now, if, in fact, this nuclear test has been confirmed, Carol.

LIN: All right. Atika, stand by there. Atika Shubert in Tokyo.

Let's go to Jamie McIntyre, our Pentagon correspondent, for reaction stateside.

Jamie, has there been reaction from the Pentagon? How soon did folks at the Pentagon find out about this?

Do we have Jamie? All right. Let's see if we can get Jamie back on the line. But in the meantime, Mike Chinoy was our former Asia correspondent. He is now at a think tank out in Los Angeles.

Mike, your reaction to these developments tonight?

All right. We don't have Mike Chinoy.

Let me go back to Atika Shubert in Tokyo. Atika, having tried to go to Jamie McIntyre at Pentagon, I just finished speaking with Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who was one of the brains behind the planning of the Iraq war. He was the spokesperson in the early days of the Iraq war. Now working at the Pentagon.

We happened to be talking to him about Iraq when this news about North Korea's nuclear testing broke. His reaction was that there's a lot of faith in South Korea's army to handle this situation. He did not expect that there would be a specific military response to North Korea's nuclear testing, but it would be more in the diplomatic arena.

What is -- what is your anticipation in terms of what Japan may do next to try to exercise its influence and rein North Korea back?

SHUBERT: Well, Japan, unfortunately, has very limited options in this. It has already put down several tough sanctions on North Korea. It stopped a lot of the money transfer going back and forth between the two countries. Stopped a lot of the shipping, and any other trade, the little trade was happening between the two countries. So it's already exercised its economic options.

Its diplomatic options are also very limited. It has hardly any relations with North Korea. So it's really relying on China to apply the pressure. In fact, I think it's safe to say that many of the players in the region are hoping that China will be the one to pressure North Korea.

The question is what can China do now if North Korea has already detonated, you know, gone through with its nuclear tests?

LIN: And done it in the face of China's warnings not to.

SHUBERT: Exactly. It puts China in a very difficult position. In fact, just over the weekend, China, together with Japan, denounced any possibility of nuclear tests, saying that it would not be tolerable. The United States has gone on to say that it would not accept a nuclear North Korea.

But the question what can any of these countries do in the face of a test happening? Is the military option really possible? Is that something the United States is likely to do? And that's a question we cannot answer yet.

LIN: All right. Thanks very much, Atika Shubert. Stand by there. Let's go to Jamie McIntyre, who covers the Pentagon for us.

Jamie, any reaction stateside?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There has been no confirmation at this point that North Korea has, in fact, conducted a successful nuclear test, although all the indications are that it would go ahead with the test, perhaps as early as this weekend.

I've reached a couple of Defense Department officials tonight who say they have not yet gotten any word of what has happened. They suggested when the confirmation does come, which should be fairly quickly, because the U.S. has capability to, through seismic monitoring and also over-flights, to detect whether or not a nuclear test has taken place.

North Korea has also announced the location where the test allegedly took place, and that should also aid in confirming whether or not they've conducted a test.

It was the assessment of the U.N. intelligence community all along that North Korea had the capability to conduct a test. They had reprocessed enough plutonium to make at least five bombs, perhaps twice as many as that. It's not that difficult to make an atomic bomb, once you have the materials. And they have been claiming -- they've been working on this for quite some time.

The assessment is that North Korea essentially wanted to become a full-fledged member of the nuclear club, and the only way that they could do that would be to actually test a nuclear weapon and remove any doubt that they had that capability.

And if this turns out to have been the case and, again, it should be fairly easy to confirm in short order, whether or not an underground test has taken place and how large it was, then, again it changes the equation.

You know, this week at the Pentagon, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, essentially said that what this would mean is that it would show the failure of the international community to be able to influence North Korea. The U.S. government, other governments, including Russia and China, sent strong messages to North Korea, trying to dissuade them from taking this action. If they have, in fact, tested an underground nuclear device, it does -- it does change the equation.

But to your earlier question about whether there might be some sort of military response from the United States. At this point, all of the sources that I've talked to in the Pentagon indicate that there's no planning for any sort of military response that the next move will likely come from the White House, the State Department.

Possibly increase sanctions. There has been some discussion, the idea of perhaps a blockade around North Korea to cut off the shipment of illicit arms, that sort of thing, but nothing along the lines of what was contemplated back in 1994, when the U.S. military actually drew up plans for a strike against their nuclear reactor.

It was a different situation then. Then there was a target works that could possibly have been hit that would have set back North Korea's nuclear program. The Yongbyong nuclear facility, the plutonium was actually in the reactor at that point. It could have been entombed in a strike. That option is now gone. The plutonium is out, the bombs have been presumably made, and now if this test has taken place, that will confirm that, in fact, North Korea has -- has those weapons. LIN: All right, Jamie, and as you were talking, some information coming in as we're trying to confirm ourselves whether North Korea has, in fact, successfully tested a nuclear weapon.

CNN has made a call to the USGS service, the U.S. Geological Service, and speaking with one of the geologists there, indicating so far that they have not seen anything from North Korea in that area. The most significant earth movement has been out of the Tonga region.

So no confirmed activity, geologic activity, and if there was a nuclear test, it would have been an underground test. So disregard any pictures that you're seeing, the file tape that we may be showing of -- of nuclear missiles.

In the meantime, let's get a gut reaction from our U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, who's standing by.

Richard, a specific warning by the U.N. Security Council just Friday, to North Korea to not test a nuclear weapon. Has there been any word, any confirmation out of the U.N., any knowledge of this test actually having been conducted?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. They're going to wait for either Vienna nuclear watchdog agency to report any testings or the member governments such as the United States.

The U.N. staff was kind of on an alert for possible tests this weekend, which would cause the Security Council to have an immediate meeting. The council, as you mentioned, did warn North Korea just on Friday in New York not to test any type of nuclear device.

Of course, it also did that in July when it condemned the surprise July 4 missile launches and called on the country to abandon its nuclear program and return to those so-called six-party talks, six countries trying to talk and work out differences. But North Korea moved away from those talks once again last year.

I think, Carol, on the timing, there are a lot of historic anniversary dates in North Korea. The anniversary of the appointment of Kim Jong-Il as head of the Communist Party, the leader of North Korea, that's Sunday.

But another timing note to make, to notice here. Monday, in a few hours, the Security Council's going to elect a new secretary- general, and it will be the South Korean (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who will replace Kofi Annan, Ban Ki-moon.

And North Korea last week chose the date that Ban Ki-moon cast a major procedure vote to become secretary-general. That's when they announced that they would test. Now comes, if this is true, the test. The timing's really -- would be more coincidental.

I think for this new secretary-general from South Korea, North Korea is not just saying, "Notice us." It means that one member of the U.N.'s 192-country roster is going to be a major pain in the neck, to say the least. LIN: Richard Roth. We can always expect a frank assessment from you at the United Nations. Richard, you'll be working your sources, I know.

I just want to remind people that CNN has the breadth of coverage, unparalleled by any other network. We have correspondents across the globe covering this story. We have Atika Shubert standing by in Tokyo, Sohn Jie-Ae standing by in Seoul, South Korea, and Jaime Florcruz in our Beijing bureau in China.

Jaime, let me get your reaction to this, or at least whether you've heard from any Chinese sources, China specifically warning North Korea to not test a nuclear weapon. The world seems to be looking to China to excess its clout with North Korea. Tell us what China -- what, if anything, China can do to rein in North Korea.

JAIME FLORCRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, still no official reaction yet from the Chinese. But certainly, the news that North Korea may have conducted a nuclear test will be viewed here with serious concern and disappointment.

In fact, as late as yesterday, in his meeting with visiting Japanese prime minister, Chinese president Hu Jingtao said that he agreed with the Japanese prime minister that a North Korea nuclear test will not be tolerated, will not be acceptable, and they still hoped that North Korea would desist from doing it.

The Chinese also have a specific concern, which is that, if it's true, the North Korean nuclear tests might have been conducted right next to its backyard, right along its border, and the Chinese would be very concerned about the question of whether there will be a fallout from this nuclear test.

Overall, this is a big slap in Chinese face, and they will certainly not be very happy now -- Carol.

LIN: But what is their ace card? What can they do? What sort of trade do they conduct with North Korea? What sort of influence do they have that might get North Korea to listen, get them back to six- party talks?

FLORCRUZ: Carol, the Chinese, perhaps, is the only country left with significant leverage in North Korea. They do have trade with North Korea. They supply oil and food to North Korea.

They also have a border with North Korea, which is very few kind of entry points that North Korea have with the outside world.

So they do have that leverage, but the Chinese are quick to say that this leverage is very limited, and that in the end, North Korea is a very proud, sovereign country. They do not listen to China. They do not listen to the outside world.

And they still hope that the only way out of this is through diplomacy, and dialogue. And they were opening until last night that North Korea would come back to join the so-called six-party talks -- Carol.

LIN: All right. Jaime Florcruz in Beijing. Stand by there, Jaime.

We're going to go to Sohn Jie-Ae in Seoul, South Korea.

Just in case people are just beginning to tune in, Sohn Jie-Ae, I just wanted to read back to you some information that I got from the Associated Press. It is quoting Korean Central News Agency. That's a North Korean news agency. Is that right?

SOHN: Yes. That's the North Korean official news agency.

LIN: All right. This is what they're saying. The test was performed successfully and there were no radioactive leakage from the site. Quote, "The nuclear test is a historic event that brought happiness to the military and people." This is quoting KCNA.

South Korea's Yonhap (ph) news agency says that the test was conducted at 10:36 in the morning near Kilju City, if that sounds familiar to you.

Is there any reaction yet from the Security Council that is meeting in South Korea?

SOHN: No, Carol. We haven't seen any official reaction yet, although we are expecting that very soon, as soon as they finish their meeting, we get official reaction. We don't know what that reaction will be, but hopefully it will give us the first confirmation of whether North Korea actually conducted these tests, and what we could see from South Korea and other countries in the future, Carol.

LIN: Let me tap into your experience here, Jie-Ae. What do you anticipate will happen in the next 24 to 48 hours?

SOHN: Well, it -- you have a bigger, sort of bigger picture to what happened after North Korea tested its missiles. There will be a lot of strong words -- if North Korea actually did conduct its nuclear weapons tests -- from not only South Korea but Japan, the United States, all countries in this region, as well as globally.

What actions that could be taken? There could be economic sanctions against North Korea. There could be a lot of pressure on China to -- to dry up or to put more economic pressure on North Korea.

But at the end of the day, there's really not that much in terms of an option of what outside countries can do. You have to really figure out what to do if North Korea has now declared itself a nuclear power, how to deal with a nuclear North Korea. It has to be a fact that has to be calculated into a lot of -- a lot of politicking in the months to come. So we'll have to see, Carol.

LIN: All right. Jie-Ae, thank you very much.

Sohn Jie-Ae, part of our terrific international coverage on this breaking story that North Korea may have actually tested -- conducted its first test of a nuclear weapon.

Let me go quick quickly to Atika Shubert in Tokyo now.

Atika, some of our reporting here, I'm going to quote from one of Zain Verjee's reports from the DMZ when she was out in. The possibility that Japan may arm itself to the teeth, beef up its military. It already has more than 50 nuclear plants for generating power. And it might even consider its own nuclear weapon in the wake of a growing North Korean arsenal.

What are the possibilities of that?

SHUBERT: Well, this has been one of the biggest concerns, that if North Korea does conduct a nuclear test, will Japan feel the pressure in itself to go -- to develop a nuclear weapon?

At the moment, Japan's constitution prevents it from taking any military measures outside of its own territory and strictly for its own self-defense. Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said that he does not support Japan developing a nuclear weapon.

However, it should be noted that he does have advisers around him that have considered the possibility that Japan, they say, should develop nuclear weapons for its own safety, in particular, regarding the North Korea issue. And the prime minister has been very past tough in the past in dealing with North Korea, and there is no doubt that the Japanese public wants to take a harder stance.

And now the question has become much more immediate: does Japan need to change its constitution? Does it need to develop its own nuclear weapon in order to defend itself against a nuclear North Korea?

LIN: Atika Shubert in Tokyo.

Standing by on the telephone with us right now is Mike Chinoy. For years he was our Asian correspondent based in Hong Kong and Beijing. Mike Chinoy now working for a think take in Los Angeles.

Mike, good to have you on this story. What is your reaction to the possibility that North Korea has conducted successfully a nuclear test?

MIKE CHINOY, FORMER CNN CORRESPONDENT: The North Koreans have been signaling for some time that this was in the works. So it is really not that much of a surprise.

I think it is important to look at the context in which this has happened, and that is a very, very frosty relationship between North Korea and the United States.

The six-party negotiations that have been going on in Beijing intermittently since 2003, really fell apart last year. And the North Koreans have felt for a long time, as best I can tell, that the Bush administration was not seriously interested in negotiating with them to find a way out. For a number of years, the North Koreans had signaled fairly clearly that both their missile and their nuclear programs were something they would be willing to put on the table for the appropriate price.

But due to the very sharp divisions in Washington between people who wanted to try and engage the North Koreans and more hard-line elements who felt that there -- it was wrong to deal with a regime like North Korea at all, and we're insisting that North Korea either unilaterally give up all its nukes or that the appropriate U.S. policy was regime change.

The result was that there was no traction on the diplomatic front, and the North Koreans feeling concerned after seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein, being overthrown in Iraq. And the Bush administration talking about the doctrine of regime change, accelerated their own nuclear breakout.

So that's the context in which they've done it. I do think it seems, in the last year or two, that the North Koreans may have decided whether they had been previously willing to bargain away their nuclear program, that they may have made a conscience decision that they were going to not do that.

And they've now decided they're going to become a nuclear power and simply force the world to live with it. And given the lack of good options in terms of coercive measures, it's entirely possible they may get away with it.

LIN: Get away with it. Interesting choice of words, Mike. You have been to North Korea how many times, 13 times?

CHINOY: Fourteen times.

LIN: Fourteen times. When you're there, what do people, given the circumstances -- you can't actually interview them freely -- but what do people say about this? I mean, what risks -- how far are North Koreans willing to go in this arena before they go too far?

CHINOY: Well, when you're there, everybody that you talk to is strictly controlled by the government. Every place you see is strictly controlled by the government.

But there is a uniform refrain you hear over and over. And I've heard it from my first trip in 1989 to my most recent trip a year ago. And that is that they feel under siege. That -- it's like you go through the looking glass, and everything looks the other way around. They feel under siege.

And in recent years, with the collapse of communism everywhere else, with the Chinese adopting a kind of capitalist economy and the fall of the Soviet Union, they felt more and more beleaguered. And so regime survival has been the name of the game for the North Koreans.

And for a long time, they made it clear that the way they wanted to ensure the viability of their regime was to cut some kind of deal with the U.S. in which they would get security guarantees, the legitimacy of the North Korean system acknowledged by Washington, using their missile and nuclear program as bargaining chips.

But there is this sense that they are the ones under siege. And, of course, as I just mentioned, the war in Iraq and the much more muscular foreign policy in general adopted by the Bush administration, accelerated those trends.

I think it also strengthened the position of the North Korean military. And it's striking that in the North Korea news agency's announcement of this thing, it mentioned that this test caused great happiness and delight for the North Korean military. And they seem to be very much the dominant force along with supreme North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

LIN: Well, an interesting wording in this release that we're getting here from the North Korean news agency. In part of it -- and listen to sort of the self-serving language, Mike.

"The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology, 100 percent. It marks an historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA and people that have wished to have a powerful, self-reliant defense capability."

This is their case for making it -- this is just all about defending North Korea. This is not about attacking anyone else. And look how great we are. I mean, just interesting language in this press release.

CHINOY: It's fairly predictable North Korean language. I do think that they see this as their security guarantee. I've had North Korean official as bluntly to me that had Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon he would still be in power. And we're not going to let's Kim Jong-Il suffer the same fate. So you can't discount the North Korean worldviews.

In the statement last week, they issued, announcing plans for this, they did stress that this was for defensive purposes only, that this would never be exported and so on. Of course, you can't take everything the North Korean at face value, obviously, the language that they've used in that statement, in particular, tried to cast themselves as a kind of responsible nuclear power.

LIN: Right.

CHINOY: Of course, their track record in many areas causes many people to doubt this. But I think the reality is they're really not very good options. Certainly as other people have noted, the military option is virtually impossible. The United States doesn't know where the North Korean nuclear operation is based. It does know where they've put all their weapons-grade plutonium; it doesn't know where their secret uranium facility is; so there isn't anyway that the U.S. could go after that.

And, moreover, the North Koreans have a quite substantial conventional army. They have over 10,000 artillery pieces aimed at the South Korean capital Seoul, which they could turned, Seoul -- as they have often said, in their earlier rhetoric, into a sea of fire quite easily. So in the absence of a military option, the question is, what other coercive options there are?

And given that the United States has already been pursuing a lot of them, pressing their -- trying to squeeze their financial interactions with the international community, cutting back in other areas. The North Korea leadership has clearly calculated that the benefits of asserting itself as a nuclear power outweigh whatever pressure there's going to face and that they can withstand it.

Even though, North Korea's economy is in a mess don't forget this is a regime that allowed nearly 2 million of it's own people to starve to death in a famine in the late 1990s, and managed to hang on to power.

LIN: All right, Mike Chinoy, great to you have on the story. We're going to ask you to stick around as long as you can as we explore this developing story. News that North Korea may have tested its first nuclear weapon; a press release from the North Korean news agency, reading that this test will contribute to "defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and in the area around it."

North Korea making the case. They're nuclear program is for self-defense. But of course, there is going to be a lot of reaction right here in the United States. The U.S. military, the Pentagon folks watching this very closely. Our Barbara Starr is standing by there -- Barbara.


LIN: Good evening.

STARR: U.S. officials, at this hour, in fact, now tell us they do believe yes, that the reports out of North Korea are true. That North Korea has conducted its first nuclear test. Now, as one official described it, however, they have no complete absolute confirmation at this hour. They didn't have eyes on the test, if you will.

But they do obviously have data, they have seismic data now, and other types of intelligence data that they are looking through, at this hour, assessing. The indicators, they say are that North Korea did conduct some sort of nuclear test. That's what they believe, but it may take several hours more of assessing this data to make sure that they can figure out exactly what North Korea has done, and what has transpired.

One of the things that is important to remember, Carol, North Korea is really a country that is masterful at strategic deception. And that means they may have done something to try and disguise exactly what they tested, how they tested it, the size of the explosion. There are a number of things they may have done to try and spoof or fool seismic sensors or other types of U.S. intelligence gathering assets.

So, it may take a while for the absolute confirmation, but at this hour now, U.S. military, U.S. intelligence believes, yes, indeed there has been a nuclear test by North Korea, Carol.

LIN: Barbara, does the Pentagon, does the U.S. military have the technical capability to ferret out the potential lie -- if in fact North Korea was trying to fake some test results?

STARR: Well, they do. Now, let's be clear. They will know very quickly and obviously have some reason to believe at this hour that, in fact, it was nuclear. There are hundreds of underground seismic monitoring stations around the world that monitor just for nuclear- type activity.

In other words, they see very particular -- and I'm no expert in it -- but my sources tell me, these seismic stations see very seismic waves that would be associated with some type of underground nuclear tests. Something very different than an earthquake or a tsunami, or something like that.

The experts are probably quickly trying to analyze whatever has taken place and make sure, for example, it's really a nuclear test, not any kind of seismic activity from maybe perhaps some kind of conventional weapons test. But, again, at this point, very quickly they are indicating, they have every reason to believe that what North Korea is saying, at this point, is true.

One of the things very important to the U.S. to determine is the magnitude, the size of the test? How much nuclear material, in fact, North Korea may have expended in this test? Determining the size of the test will help, because, of course if they can determine how much material North Korea expended in the test they may be able to make calculations how nuclear material North Korea has left, Carol.

LIN: Good point. Barbara Starr, thank you very much for staying on top of this story out of Washington. It is very late at night, here on the East Coast, but we are working a development story as word is out that North Korea may have tested a nuclear weapon for the very first time.

We have global coverage on this story. Atika Shubert in Tokyo, Japan; we have Sohn Jie-Ae in Seoul, South Korea, and we have Jaime Florcruz covering all the angles out of Beijing, China. An important and influential ally of North Korea.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


LIN: Welcomes back to the CNN World Headquarters. I'm Carol Lin on this breaking news story that the word is, out of North Korea, according to North Korean news agencies that that country has now tested its first ever nuclear weapon. Conducting this test in the face of international opposition.

Only CNN has the international reach to cover this story in every country that matters, that is closely affected by this story. We're going to start in South Korea with our own Sohn Jie-Ae on this story.

So, Sohn Jie-Ae, to bring the audience up to speed here, in reaction, South Korea has a security council that is having an emergency session right now?

JIE-AE: Yes. South Korean emergency cabinet meeting is being held. It's been in office for -- been in the meeting for about 30 minutes now, or so. We are expecting to hear, after this meeting, whether South Korea believes that North Korea actually conducted a nuclear test. And if so, what South Korea's position will be. But we have yet to hear, Carol.

LIN: All right. So in the face of that, the significance of this test. Why would North Korea do this?

JIE-AE: Well, there are a number of reasons. First you have to take the one that North Korea is giving us, that they feel that in order to -- you can see from their statement - in order to defend themselves, that they feel that they need -- they are in fear of Washington's attack. That they fear not being taken seriously by the United States, that they feel that being a nuclear power is the only way that the United States will take them seriously.

Now, some other analysts, here in South Korea, say there are internal reasons as well that North Korea is suffering from years economic hardships and there has been sort of a disarray of public sentiment within North Korea. Especially among the military, and so the North Korean military leadership needs an outside enemy, in this case, the United States, and a way to say they are now defending themselves against the outside enemy in order to gather the inner forces together.

So we don't know exactly what reasons there are, but there are a number of reasons that could have led to North Korea conducting a nuclear weapon test, Carol.

LIN: All right, Sohn Jie-Ae in South Korea. Let's go to Jaime Florcruz in Beijing.

Jaime, many people see that China may have the most economic influence, most diplomatic influence, with North Korea. How is China likely to respond to the news that North Korea may have tested this nuclear weapon?

FLORCRUZ: Carol, it is true that China is perhaps North Korea's closest ally in the region, but the Chinese also were very clear, early on, that they oppose the idea of North Korea going nuclear.

There are many reasons why China would do that. One is, that the Chinese don't want to give other powers in the region an excuse or a reason to be armed. Specifically, they'll don't want to see Japan call for nuclear weapons. Don't want to see South Korea following, and as well as Taiwan, which China considers a province -- a rebel province. So, the Chinese are hoping that the North Koreans would not proceed with it's plans. So certainly the news today will be received with huge disappointment, as well as serious concern, Carol.

LIN: Well, Jaime, it's not cheer whether the U.N. will call an emergency session of the Security Council, but do you think China would actually vote for sanctions against North Korea?

FLORCRUZ: It seems it's likely now that the Chinese would go for a harder response, including sanctions. If you remember in July this year, the North Koreans defied the Chinese pleadings not to conduct missile tests, and the North Koreans still proceeded doing so. And the Chinese, at the Security Council, when along with a serious rebuff of North Korea; they also went along with limited sanctions.

So this is more serious than that, and it seems that the Chinese are willing to play harder ball, at least lean harder on North Korea, short of totally isolating North Korea. The Chinese don't believe in totally isolating North Korea. They think that an isolated, angry North Korea is more dangerous and that the Chinese are still offering itself as a link, if not an ally to the North Koreans.

LIN: All right, Jaime Florcruz, our Beijing bureau chief in China.

Just want to let folks know that our CNN correspondents, producers, are working this story around the world. We have statements from our Correspondent Barbara Starr, out of the Pentagon, who has said that her sources are all but certain that this test did, in fact, take place.

Elise Labott, our State Department producer, says that she has senior U.S. official also confirming that they do believe that this test has taken place. The North Korean news agency reporting that this happened at about 10:36, in the morning, local time.

This is a situation that is a fluid situation. We want to Atika Shubert in Tokyo.

So, Atika, you heard Jaime talking about China's likely reaction. It's going to about strong one. North Korea conducting this test, if in fact, it did. It was a slap in the face to China, which specifically said that North Korea should not do this. What do you think will be the Japanese response?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, out of all the countries in the region Japan perhaps feels the most threatened by this, and is likely to take the harshest measures. It has already slapped sanctions on North Korea for missile tests conducted earlier in the year, and it is likely to call for even harsher sanctions now.

Japan is most likely going to lobby neighbors in the region, but also the U.N. Security Council asking for a resolution that would harshly condemn North Korea. Those are the immediate responses.

One of the biggest fears, however, in the region, has been that if North Korea does conduct a nuclear test will that prompt others in the region to produce their own nuclear weapons?

Japan, of course has a number of nuclear plants. It does have the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon, but it is constrained by its pacifist constitution. Now the question is to Japan, whether or not it will become necessary. Since North Korea has, it appears, detonates a nuclear device of some sort.

LIN: Thanks very much, Atika.

With me on the telephone right now is David Albright a former U.N. weapons inspector. He was very active in inspecting for weapons inside of Iraq in 1996 after the first Gulf War.

David, good to have you. How much nuclear power do you think North Korea has -- hello? David Albright?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if you called --

LIN: We don't have David Albright on the phone right now, but let's see if we can get him back.

So, in the meantime, we have correspondents around the world covering the story. We have producers and correspondents at the Pentagon, at the State Department. Their sources telling them that U.S. officials are all but absolutely sure that North Korea has, in fact, conducted this test.

Let's get back to Atika Shubert very quickly. Atika -- Jaime Florcruz, our Beijing bureau chief, was talking about how China would likely support sanctions, at this point, against North Korea. Do the Japanese feel that sanctions, that an international diplomatic response as such, is the solution?

SHUBERT: Well, certainly Japan has been pushing for that, even from before there was word of a possibility of a test like this. Japan has always pursued harsh economic sanctions, harsh diplomatic measures. They have had the toughest reaction to North Korea. Out of all of the members of the six-party talks.

However, they have had very limited affect. And they had been pushing for China, which has the most leverage, out of all the members, to increase its sanctions on North Korea to somehow persuade North Korea away from the nuclear option. Clearly, however, that has failed. The question now is, what other options are on the table?

LIN: And what may they be? I mean, I talked with Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who part of the Iraq war campaign in the early days. He said there is no military option. That likely it would be up to South Korea to, in terms of some kind of military response, whatever that may be. But that likely this would be mostly on the diplomatic front.

So Jie-ae in Seoul, South Korea, how likely is it that South Korea would be alarmed enough about this test that we might see more mobilization along the DMZ?

JIE-AE: Well, the likelihood is that maybe South Korean forces would heightened their alertness along the DMZ, along the military. In terms of the military response I would say the likelihood is very low.

South Korea has overall felt that a diplomatic solution was crucial. It feels that any type of military response to this North Korean nuclear weapons crisis would have a devastating affect on South Korea's thriving economy. You have to remember that South Korea's capital of Seoul is only an hour and a half drive from the border to North Korea.

It is very vulnerable to any type of military, or any type of uncertainty and rising of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. So South Korea, at this point, it is to their benefit to not see things escalate to a military type of response, in response to the weapons crises -- Carol.

LIN: All right, Jie-Ae, thank you so much.

One of our generals, a terrific guy named Spider Marks, James Spider Marks, was a senior intelligence officer in Korea. Spider Marks joins me on the telephone right now.

Spider, how much do you know about North Korea's ability -- or what the breadth of this weapon that they perhaps tested might be?

JAMES MARKS, CNN ANALYST: Carol, first in all bear in mind it's not a weapon. It's just not been weaponized. This is a test. And it's a very, very preliminary test. There's going to have to be a lot of work done on what I would call forensics, of what just took place, so that the international community's got to get a sense of what North Korea has, and has demonstrated in terms of capability.

LIN: What are the ranges of possibilities, when the North Korea news agency is saying that it -- the country performed its first-ever nuclear weapons test?

MARKS: Well, that's a jaw dropper. Frankly, we've all been following the development of nuclear capabilities in North Korea, for quite some time. And when I was the senior intel guy, oh, about six years ago, there were a number of assessments then we attributed a certain capability to the North Koreans. They have now just confirmed that.

What we don't know is what else they have in terms of their -- in terms of their ability either to ignite, or additional plutonium. So it's very, very important at this point to gather as much intelligence as we can, and the Koreans will certainly -- the North Koreans certainly will dish out a whole bunch of stuff and we have to be very skeptical about what he offer in terms of information.

You know, the United States has certainly a vast array of intelligence capabilities and an ability, to a certain degree, to STARE (ph), which means to provide some degree of permanent overlook in terms of what's going on in the peninsula. So the United States alone will be able to do some assessments in terms of any coherent change that's taken place on the ground, where this underground test took place, so some assessments can take place. But the very first step is, let's try to figure out what happened. LIN: Is it fairly accurate to the say, though, that North Korea's perception of the United States right now is that it is weak on this position? And distracted by the war in Iraq? North Koreans really acting militarily, pretty confident?

MARKS: Very emboldened. And I would say the word you used, Carol, is the best one. They would say that they are distracted. We are focused like a laser on our challenges in Southwest Asia, and they see this as a honeymoon period, frankly, in terms of their ability to be that much more emboldened, and to take these steps.

This is clearly -- I mean, I don't know the best way to describe it and at risk of being terribly understated. I mean, this is clearly unprecedented. And the military and the United States and the South Koreans have had, for over 50 years, a tremendous relationship. That, frankly, is something I wouldn't be concerned about.

These exercises that have been taking place for years and years and years have demonstrated a tremendous amount of trust that exists between the U.S. and South Koreans. So there isn't a concern that something -- that this is a tinderbox that might now ignite.

LIN: But North Korea being so emboldened. All they have to do is look at the example in India. Right?

MARKS: Sure.

LIN: India tested a nuclear -- conducted a nuclear test. And what did they get? They go spanked on the hand for six months.

MARKS: That's it.

LIN: So, what kind of penalty is North Korea really looking at when that's all India got?

MARKS: Well, that's probably exactly the response they would anticipate -- if that. Because the primary watchdog, if you will, are distracted. So you're exactly right. I'm sure North Korea is hoping that they'll be able to get a lot out of this, certainly, and they won't necessarily have to pay a very high price for doing it.

LIN: You point out something, though. Getting a lot out of it? What about North Korea's demands that U.S. troops leave South Korea? Withdraw completely?

MARKS: Well, this -- this nuclear test and any demands by North Korea does not at all up the antes in terms of a quid pro quo in their mind. You know, causally linking this event and the removal of U.S. forces from the peninsula is completely disconnected. These are two separate and distinct events.

LIN: Do you see, if the motivation is, say, regime survival, right?

MARKS: Right.

LIN: And they want respect from the United States and the West. What would satisfy that in North Korea's mind?

MARKS: You know, that's a really good question. I mean, frankly, North Korea has demonstrated forever, as long as they've been in existence, that they really do not respond to external stimuli. One of the most difficult things is to pulse North Koreans -- North Korea's leadership and to really determine what of the leverage points.

Clearly they want respect. They have gotten respect. The fact that they can, thumb their noses at six-party talks, and that their neighbors, and to saddle up next to China, or to routinely have interactions with other nations, while ignoring their neighbors to the south or trying to put themselves into a position where they might be able to have bilateral talks with the U.S. Now, clearly, that's weren't of their objectives.

LIN: Right. And something that the United States has been loathe to consider?

MARKS: The United States won't do that. Absolutely will not. And clearly the North Koreans would say, well we just popped a nuke, you guys want to talk to us now? I don't think that would be sufficient to have bilateral talks with the United States.

LIN: All right. James Spider Marks, terrific to have you on hand.

MARKS: Thanks, Carol.

LIN: Appreciate the time and the expertise. One of our generals, James Spider Marks, was a senior intelligence officer in Korea. We've been able to tap his expertise as well as check in with our correspondents across the Asian region.

Also we have producer, State Department producer Elise Labott on the telephone now with us right now.

Elise, have you been able to get more information from the State Department?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN PRODUCER, STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, Carol, senior U.S. officials are telling me they do believe, as the Pentagon correspondents have been reporting that they believe North Korea did conduct a test. They have a certain amount of initial seismic evidence from data on the ground, which shows a test could have taken place.

As we know, we need several hours to make sure that in fact, this was not some kind of heavy conventional missile test, but in fact a nuclear test. So officials point out, Carol that North Korea has been saying for the last week or so, it will conduct a nuclear test and officials have been telling us all week they have no reason to take North Korea at their word.

They've made good or their threats to conduct a missile test and did so on July 4th and now say they are going to conduct a nuclear test they do believe, as reported all along that North Korea did have some nuclear capability. Did it have several nuclear weapons and now feel that North Korea did make good on the test. But what North Korea has been really wanting, as we've been reporting, is to have some kind of bilateral dialogue with the United States. Get the united states into one or one talks.

And what Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill said, this week, in fact, at a speech, to the Asia Society, was that if North Korea thinks that this is going to drag us in to talks, if North Korea thinks its going to declare itself a member of the nuclear club, so to speak, that everybody is going to accept this and just deal with this, that's not going to take place, that the U.S. and its allies will not live with a nuclear North Korea, if they think that this kind of test is a fait accompli and everybody is going to live with it, then they're sorely wrong, Carol.

LIN: All right, Elise Labott, thank you very much for reporting in from the State Department.

With me on the telephone right now is David Albright, he's a former U.N. weapons inspector. He was in Iraq in 1996, after the first Gulf War, inspecting that country. But also has been in North Korea, in the recent years. David Albright joins me by the telephone.

David, what kind of a weapon do you think North Korea tested?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FMR. U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: First of all, it appears to be, base on reports, they only tested one weapon. You remember 1998, when India and Pakistan conducted their tests they each conducted several.

And so if it is only one weapon, that's -- I wouldn't say a positive sign, but it is a better sign than if they conducted two, three, or four tests. Because you would worry that if they did that many that they would actually be trying to make their bombs more sophisticated, gain greater confidence they could be launched by a missile. So if it is just, in a sense, a demonstration test, then that's not as bad as it could be.

LIN: What do you mean by that, though?

ALBRIGHT: Well, if they were just sending a signal that, look, we can test a nuclear weapon. And that they weren't trying to do a series of tests that would allow them to build a much better nuclear arsenal. Then that is better.

What we don't know is -- and we can all speculate, is why they have tested. And if they did only test one device why did they just test one. And I think, from my own point of view, and my own experience with the North Koreans is that we've been getting very clear signals from the North Koreans, particularly in August, that they felt increasingly backed into a corner. And that were feeling under a great pressure from the United States and the sanctions that were being imposed, particularly these financial sanctions.

LIN: Or at least the threat of them.

ALBRIGHT: And at the same time they felt incompetent in a way, or felt insecure because they're missile test failed and they felt insulted by the West. So, I think you also have a situation here where -- one interpretation put out by the North Koreans, is that they're feeling backed into a corner and responding with a nuclear test, in response to the pressure they feel from the United States, in particular. And they're not necessarily asking for direct talks with the U.S., in that interpretation. What they're asking for is for the pressure put on North Korea, by the United States to lessen.

LIN: Might seem ironic to the world, David, if in response to this, the United Nations and the United States, specifically backs off.

ALBRIGHT: That's where North Korea can miscalculate. This is not the first time this kind of cycle has been set up and North Korea does something that makes it worse, even though it's trying to make it less.

And so I think -- but I do think we should keep in mind that I don't think North Korea is trying to create an escalation, which could lead in to a military conflict. I think that is the last thing on their mind. I think they are trying to respond from a corner, and trying to re-establish in a sense their dignity. God knows what the affect was in North Korea when that Taepodong fell. And, again, North Koreans see CNN at the top level. And so, they -- you know, they hear what we're saying particularly when people are attacking their technical capabilities.

LIN: Well, David, they may be watching us as we speak, because we're simulcasting internationally. Last question for you. How do you think this test did, this test would have been conducted?

ALBRIGHT: Well, one is, I mean, everyone is watching a tunnel entrance near the city of Kilju so I think not much seen, I must say, in these satellite images.

LIN: Right, that's where the South Korean news agency said that the test was conducted.

ALBRIGHT: That's right. And it may or may not be the actual site we've all been looking at. It is very hard to know if you're looking at a nuclear test site if the country doesn't want you to know. But one of the things that would have happened is they would have taken a device inside the tunnel, and hooked up some cables, and there were reports that rolls of cables had been seen in the vicinity of this test site.

And then they would have, from a controlled point some kilometers away, pushed a button basically and detonated the explosive. And then tried to collect diagnostic -- or I'm sorry -- collect information about the test. Learn things from it. If nothing else, it's yield, how big of an explosion was it? And so, what you worry about is that North Korea also is conducting in a sense, science experiments, engineering experiments so they can learn to build nuclear weapons better. LIN: That is the world's fear. David Albright, thank you for joining us tonight.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

LIN: David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, continuing on with this developing story, CNN International.


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