February 13, 2013

The UN Security Council condemns North Korea's nuclear test. President Obama to focus on the economy in his State of Union address shortly. I'm Ray Kouguell reporting from Washington.

The UN Security Council condemned North Korea's latest nuclear test in a two-hour emergency session Tuesday. The council members called the test a "grave violation of previous Security Council resolutions against North Korea, and developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles a clear threat to international peace. The members now will begin working what they call "appropriate measures" to punish Pyongyang for flouting the council.

North Korea already is under strong UN economic sanctions because of its nuclear missile programs. VOA's Margaret Besheer reports on the harsh US response.

US Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that the US and its partners will be discussing the tightening and enhancing of what she characterized as an already "quite strong" sanctions regime against North Korea. She added that they would be interested to see if this third test differs from the two previous ones in its level of success or the quality of the test.

"Whatever the outcome, however, the international community, this council, has been quite clear: The actions of North Korea are a threat to regional peace and security, international peace and security and they are not acceptable, they will not be tolerated, and they will be met with North Korea's increasing isolation and pressure under United Nations sanctions."

Margaret Besheer, VOA news, the United Nations.

The United States says Pyongyang had notified Washington that it planned to test a nuclear explosive but gave no specific timing.

The UN says the death toll from almost two years of fighting in Syria is nearing 70,000. The Security Council has been deadlocked on a response to the Syrian crisis, with permanent members Russia and China vetoing three resolutions against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Obama will deliver a State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress about two hours from now. He is expected to focus on jobs and the nation's fragile economy and talk about Afghanistan. White House correspondent Dan Robinson has this preview.

In a speech White House aides say began to be drafted last November, he is likely to return to themes he sounded as he campaigned for re-election. He will urge Republicans and Democrats to work with him to keep the economy moving forward by strengthening and expanding the middle class, rebuilding American infrastructure, and boosting manufacturing.

On foreign policy, senior administration officials say Mr Obama will announce that 34,000 American troops will leave Afghanistan by this time next year, part of the process leading to a complete withdrawal of foreign combat forces by 2014.

Dan Robinson, VOA news, the White House.

You can hear President Obama's State of Union address at 1:30 Universal Time on radio and stream live at VOA news.com.

A key US Senate committee approved President Obama's nominee for the job of defense secretary, former Senator Chuck Hagel. The Arms Services Committee voted 14 to 11 to send his nomination onto the full Senate.

A full Senate vote is expected later this week. But some republicans are threatening to stall the nomination. They aren't happy with his earlier opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran and 2007 US troop surge in Iraq. Some lawmakers have questioned his level of support for Israel.

If confirmed, Mr Hagel would replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Russian authorities say six alleged militants have been killed in raids in the North Caucasus, a mostly Muslim region with a persistent Islamist insurgency.

Russia's Anti-Terrorism Committee says its security forces killed five suspected militants during a raid in Dagestan, including Timur Mirzekhanov, a militant wanted for a series of killings last year.

A Kyrgyz court sentenced former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to 24 years in prison for abuse of power and imposed a life sentence on the former president's brother on charges that include murder.

Both men were sentenced in absentia for their roles in abuses that led to a bloody 2010 revolt that resulted in Bakiyev's ouster. The former President and his brother fled to Belarus where they were granted political asylum. Kyrgyz authorities are seeking their extradition.

Vatican officials say Pope Benedict will play no role in the election of his successor who is expected to be named before Easter on March 31. A Vatican spokesman says the pope has indicated he has no intention to try to influence decisions on his successor. The pope said he is leaving February 28 because his advancing age is making it difficult to carry out his duties.

I'm Ray Kouguell, VOA news. More at voanews.com.