North Korea Carries Out Third Nuclear Test
North Korea confirmed it successfully exploded a device of seven kilotons today, just under half the power of the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, in its third nuclear test. The country’s government in Pyongyang called it its “first response” to what it sees as American hostility, and warned of “second and third measures of greater intensity” should the U.S. not back down. “The US and their followers are sadly mistaken if they miscalculate the DPRK would respect the entirely unreasonable resolutions [to denuclearize the nation] against it. The DPRK will never bow to any resolutions,” said Jon Yong-ryong, first secretary of North Korea’s mission in Geneva, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The test drew international condemnation, with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) holding an emergency meeting this morning, and the U.S. and South Korea agreeing to “work closely together, including at the UNSC, to seek a range of measures aimed at impeding North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and reducing the risk of proliferation,” according to the White House.
Obama to Announce Troop Cuts in Afghanistan
President Barack Obama will announce this evening at his State of the Union address the return of over half the 66,000 troops present in Afghanistan by this time next year, according to people who have read the speech. Repatriating 34,000 soldiers allows Obama to stay on track with his promise of ending the U.S. occupation of the central Asian nation while giving military leaders enough leeway to maintain a “robust force” for the next combat season this fall. Obama has called Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to inform them of his decision. NATO forces will not lead combat operations for the next two years. The administration is also debating whether to leave residual forces after the U.S.’ full departure at the end of 2014.
Hagel Approved by Senate Committee as Defense Secretary
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee approved Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense by a narrow 14-11 votes along party lines. Hagel, a retired Republican senator from Nebraska, will replace Leon Panetta at the head of the Pentagon. This is the first step in a confrontation that has pitted Senate Republicans, who criticized Hagel for opposing sanctions on Iran, suggesting that Congress was intimidated by “the Jewish lobby,” and resisting a 2007 surge in Iraq many have credited for decreasing violence in the middle eastern nation. The bitter debate that preceded the vote, during which tea party Senator Ted Cruz intimated Hagel may have taken bribes from “foreign sources,” presaged a prolonged battle as the nomination is brought to the Senate floor. Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma threatened to filibuster the move, which would require at least 60 of the 100 senators to vote in favor of Hagel’s appointment, though his tactic may prove symbolic as 60 lawmakers already said they would support Obama’s choice.
French National Assembly Approves Gay Marriage and Adoption
A bill that aims at legalizing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples passed the lower house of the French parliament today, the National Assembly. With 329 votes in favor, 229 against and 10 abstentions, the piece of legislation is now ready for final approval by the left-leaning Senate, which it is almost sure to clear. Only four members of parliament of the majority Socialist party voted against the law. “This law is going to extend to all families the protections guaranteed by the institution of marriage,” said Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. “Contrary to what those who vociferate against it say, and fortunately they’re in the minority, this law is going to strengthen the institution of marriage.” The bill simply opens up marriage to couples of the same sex by redefining the institution, secular in France, as a contract between two people, rather than a man and a woman.