North Korea threatened on Thursday to conduct a new nuclear test as the country’s scientists takes steps that could advance the North’s weapons program. The latest development comes amid a failed charm offensive by the North’s reclusive leaders and new pressure from the international community over the Pyongyang’s human rights record.
In its boldest effort to confront crimes against humanity in North Korea, the UN General Assembly voted 111 to 19 to recommend that the Security Council refer Pyongyang’s leaders to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Fifty-five nations abstained from the vote. The Security Council will now take up the issue, but China could veto an ICC investigation.
Choe Myong-nam, second from left, a North Korean representative to the United Nations, watched as a committee voted to condemn North Korea over human rights abuses on Tuesday. (Photo: AP)
A government statement subsequently declared that North Korea would be “unable to refrain any longer from a new nuclear test” in response to America’s aggression and the “grave political provocation” at the UN. Indeed, satellite pictures recently taken over North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon suggest engineers may be removing fuel from the five megawatt reactor at the site, according to a report from the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Scientists could process the spent nuclear fuel rods and make concentrated weapon-grade plutonium.
Over the past few weeks the North’s leadership had been trying to avoid an embarrassing condemnation at the UN. On November 8, two U.S. citizens, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, were released from North Korean prisons unconditionally after a visit by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Pyongyang also dispatched a high ranking diplomatic mission to Russia, even telling Moscow that they were ready to restart negotiations over their nuclear program.
Russia and China’s ability to veto resolutions on ICC referrals and sanctions at the Security Council may be Kim Jong-un’s most valuable diplomatic asset. Ultimately, the international community will have a hard time fighting what a UN Human Rights Council calls abuses without “parallel in the contemporary world.”