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Seismic Activity Near North Korean Test Site

Aired February 11, 2013 - 22:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's been an artificial seismic event in the northern part in northern -- in North Korea, in the northern part of North Korea. We've been waiting for the...

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: We've been waiting many weeks for this to happen.

And of course, this is now taking place under the leadership role of the new Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. And there was some -- there was some, of course, speculation that he may take the country in a different direction.

But now it appears that Kim Jong-Un, after successfully launching a rocket last month -- December, rather, last year and now carrying out what appears to be the test of a nuclear device.

There does appear to be a new pattern which is now emerging from North Korea. We saw this with the launch of that rocket. There appeared to be some kind of bluff in play by the North Korean leader, pretending or giving out signals that that launch may not go ahead, and then a day or two later, it happened. A similar thing happened in the lead- up to this. There were some signals coming from the North Koreans that the United States had jumped to conclusions that a nuclear test was on its way, and then another few days later, we have this nuclear test.

We're getting this information from the U.S. Geological Survey which reported a seismic disturbance in North Korea. In the northern part of the country. The seismic event was centered near the side of Pyongyang's two previous nuclear tests. Chinese experts have confirmed seismic activity in North Korea. About 4.9 magnitude.

South Korea says it detected what it called an artificial earthquake north of its border. Japanese meteorologist say the tremor, though, was different from what you might consider to be a normal earthquake. No further information at this stage is known. There's not a lot of official confirmation coming from anyone, least of all from Pyongyang.

North Korea, as we've been telling you, widely expecting to carry out this nuclear test any day now. Pyongyang is about to stage a high intensity action.

We are following this story across the region. We have Anna Coren standing by in Seoul, South Korea. We also have Alex over there in Tokyo. Now let's just go to Anna Coren, who is in Seoul for us right now.

Anna, you're on military maneuvers just a few days ago, with the South Korean and U.S. militaries there. There is a great deal of preparation in South Korea for this event. But essentially, given what's happened, what can the South Koreans do right now?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, as we're discussing yesterday, this is very much a waiting game. The test we presume has happened. That is what this artificial seismic disturbance is. A 4.9 magnitude quake, artificial quake, with a depth of something like one kilometer. And experts are saying that is much deeper than the previous test back in 2006 and 2009.

But as far as the military is concerned, there is something like 28,000 U.S. Marines based here in the Korean Peninsula, as long as the -- as well as the South Korean military. They just wait. It's -- very unlikely that there will be any preemptive action from this side of the border.

You know, North Korea has conducted tests in the past. We mentioned those two previous nuclear tests back in 2006 and 2009. Normally there is condemnation, there are words. South Korea will obviously come out and make some very strong statement. Backed by the international community there will be U.N. sanctions, tougher U.N. sanctions, which perhaps China will again back as they did after that rocket launch in December.

But militarily, John, it is business as usual. Everyone is on high alert. But it would be highly unlikely if there was to be any action taken.

VAUSE: Anna, stand by, because I want to get some reaction there, if there is any, from the president-elect parties, made a lot of strong statements in the lead-up in the last couple of weeks regarding North Korea test.

But I want you to stand by because we have Elise Labott on the line from the State Department with some more information.

Elise, is there any reaction at this late hour? 11:00 p.m. here in the United States on the East Coast. Anything coming out of the State Department just yet?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: John, well, I'm speaking to sources, senior administration officials telling me the U.S. is working to confirm. But I'm not really sure that this comes as a surprise, John. I was speaking to one senior official this morning, and they said that a test could come at any moment so I think that the U.S. has been bracing for this, planning for this, as we've been discussing.

There's been a lot of -- kind of fooling around by North Korea in terms of when the date would be just as there was when they had the rocket launch and they extended a date and then they ended up doing it before this whole extension. So I think there's definitely been -- definitely been plans to -- that this test would take place.

Now what happens now? I think that the U.S. is going to act very similar to has -- as it has with all of these rocket tests. I think they'll be going to the United Nations, going for some tough, swift action. But the question is, how does the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, all the parties in the -- in the diplomacy with North Korea deal with these continued North Korean antics? Deal with these habitual tests?

I think from the United States and his partners you're going to see a much more robust sanction policy. I know that they're looking at, you know, a lot of sanctioned regime. Along the lines of what they've done with Iran, John, working on squeezing North Korea as tight as those sanctions are on North Korea, trying to squeeze it a little bit further to try to get a change in behavior.

VAUSE: Yes, North --

LABOTT: And I think they'll definitely be going to the United Nations in the coming days.

VAUSE: North Korea a perennial problem that no one seems to know what to do with. They have a -- these have these rocket launches, they carry out these nuclear tests, they impose sanctions and yet nothing seems to change. You mentioned Japan there. What will the Japanese be doing in reaction to all of this.

Alex Zolbert is standing by in Tokyo for more on that.

Alex, there are few good options here. What is Tokyo likely to say? What is it likely to do in the coming hours?

ALEX ZOLBERT, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, John, just in the past 20 minutes or so, we heard from Japan's chief cabinet secretary. And he basically talked about, you know, what the -- what they were looking out in terms of the seismic activity. But he would not weigh-in, issuing any stern comments or any condemnation about this morning's activity out of North Korea. It's safe to say that what the thinking would be, John, is that they want to get on the same page as other neighbors in the region, the likes of South Korea, China, Russia, and try to come together and form some statement on this.

But for right now, they are not issuing any comment in terms of any condemnation about this event in North Korea this morning, which as we've all said, John, is somewhat surprising, because this event is not unexpected. We've been expecting this for several weeks now. And of course this follows that rocket launch back in December -- John.

VAUSE: Zolbert there.

We have the South Korean Foreign minister who, I believe, is standing by, Yu Myung Hwan, who is joining us now.

Minister, could you please tell us your reaction to this news that there has possibly been a test of a nuclear device by your neighbors to the North? YU MYUNG HWAN, FORMER SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it was not a surprise because North Korea has, one, several times said they would carry out a third nuclear test.

VAUSE: Can you confirm for us that this has in fact been a test of a nuclear device?

YU: It's still -- it's still not clear whether North Korea carried out the third nuclear test or not. But all the seismic effect monitored into South Korea is -- can be interpreted as they did a nuclear test.

VAUSE: So can you tell us what will the process be now? How long will it take before we can actually get confirmation of what's happened?

YU: Well, it takes at least one or two days because we don't know yet what exactly caused the seismic effect of that of -- that kind of magnitude. It was 5.1, but in the previous time in 2009, the magnitude was around 4.6. So it's much greater than the previous one in -- 2009.

VAUSE: Just to go over the bleeding obvious here, spell out what are the concerns here. I mean the North Koreans have carried out two nuclear tests in the past. This is now the third if it's confirmed. We're assuming that it will be.

Where does this all lead to? What are you most worried about?

YU: Well, if it has come from North Korea tested the third one, it means that North Korea becomes a nuclear power. Then it will undermine the whole security structure in Northeast Asia. It's going to undermine the whole peaceful situation of -- in this region.

VAUSE: So you're saying, sir, that one test could be a fluke, the second one a good shot, but a third one means they definitely have the -- a nuclear ability, is that what you're saying?

YU: Yes, that's right. North Korea wanted to have miniaturized nuclear bomb, so if North Korea successfully tested the third one it will mean that North Korea succeeded in making a small one, miniaturized nuclear bomb that can be carried on the long range missile.

VAUSE: So this -- this could be, in your estimation, a real game changer?

YU: Yes, that's correct. It will change the whole security structure in Northeast Asia.

VAUSE: So what do we do next? What is the next step? Because everything that has been tried in the past, sanctions on sanctions on sanctions, (INAUDIBLE) the regime, cutting North Korea off from the rest of the world has had little effect.

YU: As United States already passed the security situation, in which they said that the (INAUDIBLE) action will be taken if North Korea tests the third one. That means that the United States and international community will levee much harsher sanctions, such as introducing the financial sanction like this one on the year 2005. Like sanctions lift on PDA (ph), and also a Proliferation Security Initiative will be implemented. That means that all the aircraft and ships of North Korea will be interdicted and will be scrutinized.

VAUSE: If I'm not mistaken, the last time those sort of measures were taken, the North Koreans said that they would retaliate if their ships were intercepted at sea and were boarded. And they essentially -- those actions went nowhere.

YU: Well, I don't think North Korea has the means to retaliate against South Korea and the United States. They are all the time had made a lot of bluffing. So we -- our joint deterrence capabilities are much stronger than North Korea. So I don't think North Korea will do anything more than they did in the past.

VAUSE: OK. There are two camps out there, which essentially come down to this. So those who believe that China has the ultimate sway over the North Koreans, essentially because the Chinese supply them with food, with fuel. Essentially bankroll the place, keep them afloat. And there are those who believe that the Chinese have little influence over the North Koreans.

Where do you stand?

YU: I think China has influence on North Korea. But the problem is that China is interested to pay more forecasts on maintaining North Korean regime as it is rather than the (INAUDIBLE) of North Korea. So China really did not -- is best to prevent North Korea from testing their nuclear test. So China should apply more harsher sanctions against North Korea if he wants to stop the North Korean nuclear program.

VAUSE: So you're not looking towards the Chinese for much help at this point I gather?

YU: But I think in the United Nations, China cooperate with the United States and other Western countries. But what I meant is that North -- China should -- can do a lot more than what they have done now.

VAUSE: Do you expect that they will?

YU: Well, I think so. Because it will also undermine the security environment of China.

VAUSE: OK. So I think we will leave it there, but we appreciate your insight, your experience. That was Yu Myung Hwan who is a former South Korean Foreign minister joining us on the line. Spelling out exactly what could happen over the next couple of days.

And we did touch on it there, the role that China could play in all of this. Once again, the United States will be looking towards Beijing to take a leadership role because of the influence or the perceived influence that the Chinese have over their closest friends, the North Koreans. But right now we will say good-bye to our viewers in the United States.

But for everyone else here at CNN International, we'll continue on with our coverage of this breaking news story.