North Korea has warned of retaliation after the US scrapped food aid over its rocket launch, raising fears of a new nuclear test.
In a statement late on Tuesday, the nuclear-armed North said it was no longer bound by a bilateral agreement to halt testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles after Washington suspended much-needed food aid.
“We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement,” its foreign ministry said, accusing Washington of hostile acts.
South Korean analysts said they expected the North to follow up by staging a third nuclear weapons test, or launching another long-range missile.
The North also rejected condemnation by the UN Security Council, including its ally China, of the failed launch last Friday.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to resume contact and dialogue with Pyongyang in the apparent hope the two could seek a way forward for the UN atomic agency to inspect North Korean nuclear facilities.
Pyongyang insists its botched satellite launch was not a missile test and it did not breach the February deal with the US, under which it vowed to suspend uranium enrichment and nuclear and missile tests in return for food.
However, the US called off plans to start shipping 240,000 tonnes of food, saying the North could no longer be trusted.
On Monday, a UN Security Council statement “strongly condemned” the launch. It ordered a tightening of existing sanctions and warned of new action if the isolated state stages another nuclear or long-range missile test.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak praised China’s response to the launch, including its backing for the UN statement.
“I believe we can trust China ... we should continue to manage relations with it,” he was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying.
“With the February agreement broken down in practice, the North will likely take many of the steps the US and South Korea have long feared, including another nuclear test and a long-range missile test,” Paik Hak-soon of the South’s Sejong Institute think tank said.
When the US and the Security Council start taking punitive actions, “Pyongyang will certainly respond with actions as well,” said Yang Moo-jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.
“These would include a third nuclear test, or test-launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile or stepping up activities involving weapons-grade uranium,” Yang said.