Obama Promises 'Additional Significant Steps' in Response to North Korea Nuclear Test

WASHINGTON -- President Obama condemned Pyongyang's fifth nuclear test today in the "strongest possible terms as a grave threat to regional security and to international peace and stability" as outraged lawmakers from both parties called for tougher action to stop North Korea's nuclear program.

The U.S. Geological Survey detected a magnitude 5.3 blast at 9 a.m. this morning Pyongyang time. North Korea previously held nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2011 and this past January, which was followed by a UN Security Council resolution in March. "We estimate the North has carried out the biggest-ever test," said a statement shortly after the blast by the South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff.

North Korea said it conducted a "nuclear warhead explosion" in response to perceived U.S. hostility. "We sent out a message that if the enemies attack us, we can counterattack."

And South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo warned today that another nuclear test is likely on the horizon.

"North Korea has been preparing a nuclear test and given the related developments, I think that it can do another nuclear test soon," Hong said, according to Yonhap news agency. "...Since things have become more serious, the government will try to take actions that put more pressure on the North to change its behavior when a new round of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council comes out."

In a statement issued by the White House this morning, Obama, who just returned from the ASEAN summit meeting in Laos, noted that North Korea "stands out as the only country to have tested nuclear weapons this century."

"As commander in Chief, I have a responsibility to safeguard the American people and ensure that the United States is leading the international community in responding to this threat and North Korea's other provocations with commensurate resolve and condemnation," Obama said. "To be clear, the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state."

He called the latest nuclear test "a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions" that "makes clear North Korea's disregard for international norms and standards for behavior and demonstrates it has no interest in being a responsible member of the international community."

The president said he spoke with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after the news broke.

"We agreed to work with the UN Security Council, our other Six-Party partners, and the international community to vigorously implement existing measures imposed in previous resolutions, and to take additional significant steps, including new sanctions, to demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to its unlawful and dangerous actions," Obama said. "I restated to President Park and Prime Minister Abe the unshakable U.S. commitment to take necessary steps to defend our allies in the region, including through our deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to the ROK, and the commitment to provide extended deterrence, guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities."

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he was "deeply perturbed and outraged" that North Korea is "yet again threatening the United States and our allies."

Menendez introduced the North Korea Sanctions Enhancement Act "mandating the President impose sanctions against any North Korean individual to be found engaging in nefarious and destabilizing activity, as well as violating basic human rights" after the last nuclear test in January, and it was signed into law by Obama in February.

"This legislation was nearly universally supported and showed the North Koreans that the United States will not stand by as it continues to threaten our interests and our allies," Menendez added. "We must act quickly to enforce these new provisions, and President Obama must make clear that the United States will take decisive steps against these kinds of actions from Pyongyang."

The top Dem on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said North Korea’s "continued belligerence is unacceptable" and the United States "should explore additional unilateral steps we can take to safeguard our nation, our people and our allies."

"We know that China has continued its substantial economic engagement with North Korea despite the passage of United Nations Security Resolution 2270," Cardin said. "It is my sincere hope that China demonstrates its willingness to work with the Republic of Korea, the United States, Japan and others in the international community to impose - and implement - additional measures at the United Nations."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) underscored that North Korea "has also conducted a record level of ballistic missile tests this year, including an apparently successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile."

"Now is the time for the Obama administration to robustly enforce all sanctions tools at its disposal and to redouble its efforts to strengthen security guarantees and defense relationships with unshakable allies like South Korea and Japan," Thornberry said. "The wisdom and foresight of President Park’s decision to accept the deployment of a U.S. Army THAAD battery is on display today."

Rep. Matt Salmon's (R-Ariz.) resolution backing South Korea and Japan as they confront the Pyongyang threat and supporting deployment of the THAAD system passed the House two days ago.

“Word of North Korea’s belligerence has become so routine that it almost fails to be noticed," Salmon said. "Unfortunately, today’s nuclear test continues a disturbing trend; the North Korean government is perfecting the ability to harm innocent civilians throughout Asia and the world. With the strong ties between North Korea and Iran, a well-known state sponsor of terrorism, this alarming development must be countered."

“Our deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to the South Korean peninsula is a good first step, but we must not lose our resolve in dealing with this despicable regime.”