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What can the US do about North Korea?

Washington’s response to the rogue nation’s nuclear test Monday is complicated by Pyongyang’s custody of two American journalists.

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North Korea's underground nuclear test Monday may be seen as a major provocation that pushes Pyongyang near the top of the Obama administration's foreign-policy agenda.

For the White House, the problem now could be figuring out precisely how the explosion changes the nature of the threat from North Korea's secretive regime – and what, if anything, the US can do about it.

The situation is made more difficult because two US journalists seized March 17 by the North Koreans along the border with China are due to stand trial on illegal entry and other charges in early June.

"For the administration, the immediate challenge is how to get the American journalists out of North Korea without giving North Korea leverage or enhancing the perception that we accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state," says Scott Snyder, director of the Center for US-Korea Policy at The Asia Foundation.

News of the test became public when North Korea issued a statement saying it had successfully detonated a nuclear device, defying international sanctions. The explosion was much larger than the one associated with its previous nuclear test in 2006, according to the North Korean statement.

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