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Test moves North Korea closer to nuclear bomb

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

North Korea's latest nuclear test shows it is making steady progress toward a deliverable nuclear weapon, and the international community and China, its greatest trading partner and ally, have little influence to make it stop, analysts say.

Based on seismic evidence, “we can say with certainty they're getting better at building their nuclear device,” said Robert Avagyan of the Institute for Science and International Security, a think-tank focused on controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.

President Obama said the nuclear tests were a “highly provocative act” that endangers the United States and other Western nations. North Korea has “increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” he said in a statement. In an emergency session, the United Nations Security Council unanimously said the test poses “a clear threat to international peace and security” and pledged further action.

Several nations, including Russia and China, have condemned the test.

North Korea's economy is so isolated that even China, North Korea's No. 1 trading partner, political ally and patron, has little influence on North Korean decision-making, says James Acton, a proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“North Korea's economy is extremely isolated and focused on self-reliance,” Acton said. Despite growing trade with China, there is “probably not much leverage there.”

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Tuesday as part of a program it has said will allow it build a bomb that can reach the United States. North Korea said the atomic test was merely its “first response” to what it called U.S. threats and it will continue with unspecified “second and third measures of greater intensity” if Washington maintains its hostility.

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