clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

North Korea marks first nuclear test anniversary with praise for leader Kim

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea marked the first anniversary of its nuclear test Tuesday with calls on the country's poverty-stricken population to rally around leader Kim Jong Il, praised by state media for pulling off a "truly great miracle."

Japan's Cabinet, meanwhile, approved plans to extend economic sanctions over the test for another six months. The sanctions — including banning the import of North Korean goods and closing Japanese ports to the communist nation's ships — were to expire in mid-October.

The Oct. 9, 2006, test sent tensions spiraling in the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program. But it also prompted the U.S. to soften its policy toward North Korea, paving the way for steps toward a goal of dismantling the North's nuclear program.

The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran a lengthy editorial Tuesday to mark the anniversary, imploring the country's 23 million people to rally around Kim, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

"Never forgettable are acclamations of October 2006, when we shouted hurrah again and again at the top of our voices in admiration of General Kim Jong Il who unfolded an eternally clear sky of peace, prosperity and hope above the heads of the 70 million people," the state-controlled paper said, referring to both North and South Koreans.

The nuclear test was a "truly great miracle," the paper said, sending the North "soaring as a powerful and great nation" at a time of hardship.

The country is believed to have conducted the underground test explosion at an unknown location in its northeast. The size of the blast was relatively small, with the U.S. government estimating its yield at less than a kiloton. Each kiloton is equal to the force produced by 1,000 tons of TNT.

The explosion brought widespread international condemnation. But it also added urgency to the need to resolve the standoff, and led the U.S. to address one of North Korea's key demands, which involved a banking dispute that had stalled negotiations.

North Korea responded positively to the U.S. overture, promising in February to shut down and then disable its sole functioning nuclear reactor as a step toward its dismantlement. In exchange, it was promised economic aid and political concessions from the U.S. and four other countries — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

North Korea closed the Yongbyon reactor in July, and committed last week to disabling it and other facilities by year's end. A team of U.S. nuclear experts is scheduled to visit the North to survey the Yongbyon nuclear complex to help map out its disablement plan.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said Tuesday that Tokyo would extend its economic sanctions despite the North's pledge because Pyongyang has not yet taken any concrete steps toward disablement. Japan had already extended the sanctions once, in April.

"We decided to continue the sanctions because there was no change in the situation," Fukuda said. "We must see what future negotiations we can carry out."

Japanese officials have also complained of little progress in resolving the issue of its citizens allegedly abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. The issue has been a main sticking point for the two countries.

The improved relations between Pyongyang and Washington has led to the U.S. government deciding to ship heavy fuel oil to North Korea as part of the February shutdown deal, and separately offer food aid. Washington also promised to take steps to take Pyongyang off its blacklist of countries sponsoring terrorism.

South Korea's presidential security adviser, Baek Jong-chun, said Monday that U.S. and North Korean officials are expected to meet soon to discuss the proposed food aid.

Buoyed by the progress in the nuclear issue, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed at a summit last week with Kim to seek to replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty and pursue a meeting of leaders of parties to the cease-fire.

Roh briefed President Bush on the summit in a telephone conversation Tuesday and the two agreed the foremost goal is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, White House press secretary Dana Perino said. She said Roh had placed the U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement before the South Korean national assembly and expressed hope that it would move quickly.

Roh also briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin on the inter-Korean agreement and ask Moscow's help in implementing it.