North Korea on Thursday defended its retention of a nuclear weapons program, saying other nations that have given up their deterrents have met with "tragic consequences," Reuters reported.
"The tragic consequences in those countries which abandoned halfway their nuclear programs ... clearly prove that the D.P.R.K. was very far-sighted and just when it made the (nuclear) option," North Korean state-controlled media said.
Following the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was forced to give up his unconventional weapons and submit to international monitoring. His regime was toppled more than a decade later in the 2003 U.S.-led military invasion. Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi agreed to give up his WMD program in a 2003 agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom. A NATO-backed popular uprising in 2011 ended his rule when his army was left with few means to counter the Western military alliance's airstrikes.
More than a week after the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test, the United States and partner nations have been unable to find evidence of radiation material released from the underground chamber used at the Punggye-ri site, Reuters separately reported.
The absence of airborne radionuclides makes it hard for international scientists to determine whether weaponized uranium or plutonium was used to fuel the nuclear device. Experts are also left guessing at how much North Korea has improved its warhead design since its last test in spring 2009.
The U.S. Air Force is flying so-called "sniffer" aircraft to search for any radionuclides that might have been released into the air following the detonation. The WC-135 airplanes have yet to find anything, according to officials.
Independent and government analysts agree it is likely the explosive yield from last week's test was substantially greater than the force produced from the North's 2009 and 2006 tests. Estimates vary considerably but many scientists think it had a minimum yield of 5 kilotons.
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim on Wednesday said the Obama administration is pushing for the U.N. Security Council to agree to a strong response against Pyongyang, the Yonhap News Agency reported. "We are working very closely with the South Korean government and of course working closely with the Chinese government as well to try to come up with the best possible response to the test," he said to a Seoul audience.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries are slated to conduct a yearly bilateral exercise in March that will assess their responses to various dangers from the North, Yonhap reported. The two-week 'Key Resolve' drill is to involve some 3,500 U.S. military personnel and roughly 10,000 South Korean troops, according to the allies' Combined Forces Command.
Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces recently staged an exercise aimed at assessing strategies for seizing North Korea's nuclear weapons in a crisis situation, Yonhap also reported.