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Associated Press
North Koreans in Pyongyang listen as a state TV broadcaster announces news of their nation’s nuclear test Tuesday.
Analysis

North Korea goading US to talk peace

– The way North Korea sees it, only bigger weapons and more threatening provocations will force Washington to come to the table to discuss what Pyongyang says it really wants: peace.

It’s no coincidence that North Korea’s third underground nuclear test – and by all indications so far its most powerful yet – took place Tuesday on the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address.

As perplexing as the tactic may seem to the outside world, it serves as an attention-getting reminder to the world that North Korea may be poor but has the power to upset regional security and stability.

And the response to its latest provocation was immediate.

“The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community,” Obama said in a statement hours after the test. “The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies.”

The United Nations, Japan and South Korea also responded with predictable anger.

Even China, North Korea’s staunchest ally, summoned the North Korean ambassador to the Foreign Ministry for a rare dressing down.

All this puts young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his circle of advisers right where they want to be: at the center of controversy and the focus of foreign policy.

A year into his nascent leadership, he is referring to his father’s playbook to try forcing a change on North Korea policy in capital cities across the region – mostly notably in the U.S.

The intent in Pyongyang is to get Washington to treat North Korea like an equal, a fellow nuclear power.

The aim of the nuclear and missile tests is not to go to war with the United States – notwithstanding its often belligerent statements – but to force Washington to respect its sovereignty and military clout.

During his 17-year rule, late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il poured scarce resources into Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs to use as bargaining chips in negotiations with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo. At the same time, he sought to build unity at home by pitching North Korea’s defiance as a matter of national pride as well as military defense.

North Korea has long cited the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, and what it considers a nuclear umbrella in the region, as the main reason behind its need for nuclear weapons.

North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the bitter, three-year Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce in 1953 and left the peninsula divided by a heavily fortified buffer zone manned by the U.S.-led U.N. Command.

Sixty years later, North Korea has pushed for a peace treaty with the U.S. But when talks fail, as they have for nearly two decades, the North Koreans turn to speaking with their weapons.

In 2008, after years of negotiations led by China, North Korea agreed to stop producing plutonium and blew up its main reactor northwest of the capital.

But in 2009, just months after Obama took office for his first term, Pyongyang fired a long-range rocket carrying a satellite, earning U.N. condemnation and sanctions that North Korea accused Washington of initiating. In protest, Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test and revealed it had a second way to make atomic bombs: by enriching uranium.

With nuclear negotiations stalled, North Korea forged ahead making missiles designed to reach U.S. shores and worked toward building a bomb small enough to mount on it – less with an actual attack in mind than for use in brandishing as a warning to the wartime foe.

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