(WASHINGTON) — At what he called his final Pentagon press conference Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. is still trying to determine if the North Korean test early Tuesday morning was really nuclear.
North Korea announced it had conducted its third underground test of a nuclear weapon that it called a “miniaturized device.” South Korea said the test measured six to seven kilotons, or about two-thirds of the size of the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
In his opening remarks Wednesday Panetta said he joined President Obama in, “condemning the apparent North Korean nuclear test.” However, Panetta added, “We’re still evaluating that to determine exactly, you know, whether or not it really was a nuclear test.”
Nuclear test or not, he labeled it a “highly provocative act” that violated UN Security Resolutions and commitments made in the Six Party Talks.
“There is no question that North Korea constitutes a threat to the United States, to regional stability and to global security,” said Panetta. “The combination of a recent missile test combined with what apparently was this nuclear test, we believe, represents a real threat to the United States of America. Make no mistake: The U.S. military will take all necessary steps to meet our security commitments to the Republic of Korea and to our regional allies.”
Panetta said the assessment of whether it was a nuclear test is ongoing, “but there’s no question that North Korea has continued to enrich fuel.”
“It should be of great concern to the international community that they are continuing to develop their capabilities to threaten the security not only of South Korea but of the rest of the world. And for that reason, I think that we have to take steps to make very clear to them that that kind of behavior is unacceptable,” Panetta continued.
He urged the international community to take steps so North Korea sees how its moves are only isolating it further. Earlier Wednesday Panetta spoke with South Korea’s Defense Minister and both agreed to continue to hold exercises in the Korean peninsula.
“We’re going to continue to show the North Koreans that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingencies. We’re going to work with both South Korea and Japan to try to develop the kind of defense systems that we need. And I think that we have to do everything necessary to increase our missile defenses with regards to that threat,” he said.
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