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Global Leaders Look To China In Response To North Korea Nuclear Test


North Korea says it's tested its first hydrogen bomb. World leaders are skeptical but worried. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, U.S. diplomats are struggling to figure out a way to pressure North Korea to change course.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The condemnation was swift across the globe. At U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded that the North Koreans stop violating Security Council resolutions.


BAN KI-MOON: This act is profoundly destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international nonproliferation efforts.

KELEMEN: The Security Council is now working on more sanctions. Past U.N. resolutions don't seem to have worked, though, says a former White House adviser on North Korea, Georgetown professor Victor Cha. He says the only way for the U.S. to change North Korean behavior is to work much more closely with China, Pyongyang's main benefactor.

VICTOR CHA: The Obama administration has tried in various ways to entice the North into a negotiation, as they have done with Burma, Iran and Cuba, but they have been unsuccessful. So the North doesn't seem to be interested in negotiation. And in terms of China, they have not been willing to put the sort of pressure that's necessary to really cut off the North and get them to come back to the table for negotiation.

KELEMEN: He says it's an open question whether this latest nuclear test near the Chinese border will be enough to get Beijing to, in Cha's words, really step on North Korean necks. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says top U.S. officials are already reaching out to their Chinese counterparts. He calls the North Korean test provocative but cautions that Pyongyang may be overstating its capabilities.


JOSH EARNEST: The initial analysis that's been conducted of events that were reported overnight is not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test.

KELEMEN: It may be a while for experts to determine how advanced North Korea's nuclear program program really is, but Victor Cha, who's also at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the U.S. and its partners should be drawing lessons already.

CHA: North Korea is not sitting still. It is advancing to its best abilities to develop the most modern lethal nuclear weapons force that it can. It's not simply building a couple of bombs for the basement.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration is facing criticism from members of Congress for not doing enough to stop North Korea. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, says the White House strategy has been to try to ignore the threat in hopes it goes away. The trouble is, says Joan Rohlfing, the U.S. can't deal with North Korea alone. She's the president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization that works to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

JOAN ROHLFING: It's not good enough if we're working this alone and others are not on the same page as us because, you know, it takes all hands to create this global norm. There is a taboo against nuclear testing precisely because the rest of the world has come together and said, we aren't going to test anymore.

KELEMEN: And Rohlfing says the U.S. could set an example by ratifying the comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and relying less on its own nuclear arsenal. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.