— SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — 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 Barack 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.