Suggested Answers to the Short Quiz

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Suggested Answers to the Short Quiz

Post by johnkarls »

Question 1

Who was Mohammad Mossadeq?

Answer 1

Born in 1882, he was the scion of one of Iran’s leading political families. From 1919-1925, Mohammad himself was a prominent politician serving as, inter alia, finance minister and foreign minister.

In 1949, he formed the National Front which was opposed to British influence in general and, in particular, British control of the Iranian oil industry through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (aka AIOC, which morphed into British Petroleum or BP plc).

Becoming Prime Minister 4/28/1951, Mohammad wasted no time in nationalizing AIOC three days later.

In addition to Mohammad’s National Front, the nationalization of AIOC had also been supported by Iran’s Communist Party which had organized nationwide strikes and riots during April 1951 to compel nationalization.

Constantly rebuffing all attempts by the Brits for a rapprochement, Mohammad declared Britain an enemy in October 1952 and broke off diplomatic relations.

Operation Ajax (the CIA’s official name for the coup it conducted in partnership with the British Secret Service) deposed Mohammad on 8/19/1953. He was imprisoned for 3 years, and then placed under house arrest until his demise in 1967.

Question 2

Why did the CIA and the Brits depose Mohammad Mossadeq as Iran’s popular Prime Minister in 1953 and install in his place The Shah?

Answer 2

Please see Q&A-3 and Q&A-4.

Question 3

Did this have anything to do with U.S. President Truman’s “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” (using the foreign-tax-credit provisions of the Internal Revenue Code to funnel money to oil-rich Middle Eastern countries to by-pass the Congressional appropriations process) and the underlying policy of favoring/creating regimes that would oppose Soviet penetration of the Middle East?

Answer 3


More background on Truman’s “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” =

Our 3/13/2008 meeting 7 years ago focused on Benizir Bhutto’s “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West.”

Posted on for that meeting are six critiques of her book, the last of which is entitled “The First Marshall Plan for the Middle East by President Truman” since Benizir Bhutto was proposing a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and claiming that there had never been one!!!

The following excerpt comes from that sixth critique --

Having decided to make Saudi Arabia the American bulwark against Soviet expansion into the Persian Gulf, President Truman had to figure out how to get funds to destitute King Saud.

Because although there were many more oil discoveries by Caltex-Arabia after 1933, King Saud was only getting the originally-agreed pittance of a royalty.

[2015 Reading Liberally Editorial Note – Caltex-Arabia, owned 50-50 by Standard Oil of California, aka Chevron, and Texaco Inc., had in turn owned 100% of all oil & gas in Saudi Arabia from before the first discovery in 1933.]

And to make matters worse, Caltex was unable to absorb in its refining/marketing system what was coming on line and was hiding new discoveries from King Saud so that he wouldn’t impose a partial nationalization and sell the nationalized piece to Caltex competitors. Indeed, this situation had become so bad by 1948 that SoCal and Texaco decided to let Exxon into Caltex-Arabia for 30% and Mobil in for 10% rather than see the same thing result from a partial nationalization under which SoCal and Texaco would have netted very little.

But in 1950, even Caltex-Arabia (now re-named Aramco because of its new 30-30-30-10 ownership) was still only paying the pittance royalty.

So the Truman Administration sent a delegation to Saudi to instruct King Saud to impose an income tax on Aramco, even though the agreement of the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company ("CASOC" which became Caltex-Arabia which became Aramco) with King Saud provided an exemption from any Saudi income tax, if one were ever invented.

The Truman Administration told King Saud not to worry about any objections from the Aramco shareholders – that Truman would take care of them!!!

And meanwhile, the Truman Administration told the Aramco shareholders “to sit on it and rotate” (please pardon my French) because the Saudi income tax would not “come out of the hide” of Aramco because it would be able to claim a foreign tax credit for the Saudi tax against the U.S. income taxes it would otherwise pay!!!

The reason explained on a confidential basis to the CEO’s of the 4 Aramco shareholders by Truman – he had had enough trouble getting the Marshall Plan for Europe approved by Congress because of the 85% American public opinion opposing aid for Europe, so he had decided to by-pass Congress on the Marshall Plan for the Middle East by having the Middle East oil-producing countries decree income taxes that would have the effect of diverting American tax revenues to those countries WITHOUT CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL.

One hilarious footnote in the whole imbroglio???

The American diplomats and foreign-tax-credit experts that went to Saudi to instruct King Saud to impose an income tax on Aramco did not explain sufficiently that King Saud must issue a Royal Decree comprising the entire draft that they provided him. He only decreed a portion of the draft (the so-called “November Decree”). The American delegation returned to Saudi and explained that without a Royal Decree of the remainder of the draft, the income tax would not be creditable against Aramco’s U.S. income taxes. King Saud did as instructed (the so-called “December Decree”).

Then the Truman Administration served Aramco with a published IRS ruling, which was probably the only un-solicited ruling in the history of the IRS, that the Saudi income tax qualified for the foreign tax credit.

When Eisenhower swept to victory and, with him, new Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans were irate that the Truman Administration had implemented a Marshall Plan for the Middle East without Congressional approval!!!

So they held public Congressional hearings!!!

And subpoenaed all of the Truman Administration diplomats and foreign-tax-credit experts who had traveled to Saudi twice to instruct King Saud what to do. During the Congressional hearings, they all had amnesia despite the stamps in their passports which they were forced to produce for the record!!!

Luckily, the proverbial “cooler heads” prevailed – Eisenhower became convinced by Churchill (who had returned to power) and Truman that the Soviet Union should be contained.

Though, unfortunately, one of the “cooler heads” in this regards was Senator Joe McCarthy who shortly thereafter began his notorious anti-Communist hearings spear-headed by a fanatical junior committee staff attorney by the name of Robert Kennedy whose position had been procured by Joe McCarthy’s old friend, ultra-conservative and un-repentant Nazi sympathizer as our Ambassador to Britain during the Neville Chamberlain era, Joe Kennedy. Robert Kennedy's fanaticism and zeal on behalf of the McCarthy Committee is the reason why liberals never really trusted him for the rest of his life and why the name "Robert Kennedy" was rarely mentioned in the media without the term "ruthless" included in the same sentence!!!

Question 4

Did President Truman, in the middle of a discussion about the Korean War (1950-1953), famously put his finger on Iran on a globe and say: “Here is where they will start the trouble if we are not careful. If we just stand by, they’ll move into Iran and they’ll take over the whole Middle East”? By “they” did President Truman mean the Soviets?

Answer 4


There are numerous authorities for this, but the most prestigious authority is Daniel Yergin’s “The Prize: The Epic Quest For Oil, Money & Power” which won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted by PBS/BBC into a mini-series seen by more than 20 million viewers.

The direct quotation of President Truman in Q-4 appears in Chapter 23 of “The Prize” which is entitled “‘Old Mossy’ and the Struggle for Iran” in the third-from-last paragraph of Chapter 23’s Sub-Chapter entitled “The Oil Cartel Case.”

I apologize for such a ridiculous citation, but the Publishers have committed the Cardinal Sin of using different page numbers for different printings!!!

There is at least one old undated paperback printing with a black cover for which Chapter 23 occupies pp. 450-478 with the quotation at the top of p. 475. While the current undated paperback printing with a white cover has Chapter 23 at pp. 432-460 with the quotation at the bottom of p. 456. [My original 12/9/1990 Hard Copy is on loan at the moment to someone who has misplaced it, so who knows where Chapter 23 and the quotation reside in the Hard Copy.]

Question 5

What was the Iranian Consortium?

Answer 5

Following Mossadeq’s nationalization of AIOC on 5/1/1951, the U.S. and Britain led a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil.

When the U.S. and Britain deposed Mossadeq on 8/19/1953, they thought they had to organize an orderly re-entry of Iranian oil onto the world market.

Accordingly, they awarded 12.5% of Iran’s oil to each of the 8 major oil companies that were already producing virtually all of the oil in the Middle East since each of the 8 would have to reduce somewhat its production in other countries to make room for the Iranian oil -- the 4 Aramco shareholders (Chevron-Texaco-Exxon-Mobil) reducing output in Saudi Arabia, Shell and Gulf in Kuwait. AIOC was included because it had owned the Iranian oil before the 1951 nationalization and because Britain’s Secret Service had participated in the coup. The French company, CFP, was included so the French government wouldn’t complain.

Meanwhile, according to Daniel Yergin’s “The Prize” (Chapter 23’s final Sub-Chapter entitled “Building the Consortium”), since President Eisenhower was scuttling the Department of Justice’s anti-trust case against the American oil companies for geopolitical Cold War reasons, Eisenhower for American public-relations purposes confiscated 1 percentage point of each of the 4 Aramco shareholder’s 12.5% (leaving each with 11.5%) and divided the 4% between 4 small American oil companies, Philips, Atlantic Richield, Ashland and Standard of Ohio.

Ironically, Standard of Ohio later “bet the ranch” on the Alaska North Slope and went bankrupt as environmentalists blocked for a number of years the pipeline from the ANS down to Valdez Alaska. Ironically, because AIOC (aka BP) was able to acquire in bankruptcy Sohio’s ANS crude for virtually nothing and BP’s (Sohio’s) ANS reserves today are probably worth more than BP’s entire market capitalization.

Question 6

Did the Shah of Iran serve as a loyal pawn in the West’s Cold War policy of containment of the Soviet Union from 1953-1979?

Answer 6


Question 7

Was the 1979 Iranian Revolution greeted almost immediately by a 1980-1988 war launched against it by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in which more than a million Iranians died?

Answer 7


The Shah was deposed 1/16/1979. On 4/1/1979, Iran conducted a national referendum that established The Islamic Republic of Iran.

On 8/22/1980, Saddam Hussein attacked Iran to begin the 8-year war. [It does not appear that Jimmy Carter had anything to do with the attack, though who knows???]

The previous year on 11/4/1979, Iranian students had captured the American Embassy in Tehran.

There were 52 American diplomats and citizens who were held hostage for 444 days.

They were released on 1/20/1981 just as Ronald Reagan was being sworn in as President so that President Reagan would not be able to use the hostages as an excuse for invading Iran.

Question 8

If you were the leader of the Iranian Revolution against the oil companies and Western governments, and had survived such a catastrophic war during the first 8 years of your existence, wouldn’t you want nuclear weapons?

Answer 8

In other words, are you certifiably insane???

Question 9

In other words, hasn’t U.S. policy toward Ukraine and Libya on the one hand, and North Korea on the other, taught every non-nuclear power that the U.S. will not hesitate to “cut you off at the knees” if you are stupid enough to give up your nuclear-weapons programs, and will treat you “with kid gloves” if you are smart enough to refuse?

Answer 9

After the old Soviet Union imploded in 1989, Ukraine was left with 1900 multiple-warhead nuclear missiles that were “state of the art”!!! They were persuaded to surrender them by BILL CLINTON (AS U.S. PRESIDENT), John Major (as U.K. Prime Minister) and Boris Yeltsin (as President of the Russian Federation) who signed on 12/5/1994 the Budapest Memorandum WHICH GUARANTEED the independence and integrity of Ukraine!!!

Even more shamefully in the light of recent events, BARACK OBAMA (AS U.S. PRESIDENT), signed a Joint Declaration with the Russian Federation on 12/4/2009 "confirming their commitment" under the 12/5/1994 Budapest Memorandum to guarantee the independence and integrity of Ukraine!!!

Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi panicked after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and voluntarily surrendered his nuclear-weapons program that the CIA did not even know he had!!! [Libya, Iran and North Korea had all acquired nuclear-weapons technology from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “Father of Pakistan’s Bomb.”]

So do you think the U.S. has honored its obligation to guarantee the independence and integrity of Ukraine??? Or left Colonel Qaddafi in power once he was stupid enough to give up his nuclear-weapons program??? And, on the other hand, do we refuse to treat North Korea the way it deserves???

Question 10

Was the father of our author, Nazila Fathi, a senior official at the Iranian Oil Ministry before the 1979 Revolution? Did he lose his job within a year after the Revolution?

Answer 10

Yes. Yes.

Question 11

Was Nazila Fathi turning 18 when the Iraq-Iran War ended in 1988? Did she decide to study English at Azad University? Did this lead to becoming a translator for foreign journalists? Did she decide to become a journalist in her own right in 1992?

Answer 11

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Question 12

Was she almost immediately summoned to a meeting with an intelligence-ministry official and recruited as a spy vis-à-vis other journalists? Did this official, for the next two decades, constantly alternate as a source, a protector and a threat? Would she even have been able to have a journalistic career if she hadn’t cooperated with this official?

Answer 12

Yes. Yes. Presumably not.

Question 13

As we have studied many times in the past, is it possible to have democracy without a free press? In other words, do you think George Orwell’s Big Brother would have had any trouble receiving 100% of the vote if he had bothered to hold elections? Or is anyone surprised that Stalinist leaders around the world have historically experienced no trouble in being elected with more than 90% of the vote?

Answer 13

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Question 14

Does Iran have a free press?

Answer 14

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Question 15

Wouldn’t Iran’s Islamic Regime, which was established via a popular referendum shortly after the 1979 revolution, presumably remain popular? And couldn’t its control over the press and over dissidents be viewed as self-defense measures against foreign countries that would like to overthrow an essentially popular regime?

Answer 15

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Question 16

How have Iran’s poor fared as a result of the Revolution?

Answer 16

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Question 17

How have women fared as a result of the Revolution?

Answer 17

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Question 18

Who are the women’s rights activists that Nazila Fathi describes in detail?

Answer 18

Faeza Hashemi, Shahla Sherkat, Shirin Ebadi, Mehrangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji, and Zahra Eshraghi.

Question 19

Who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003?

Answer 19

Shirin Ebadi, the feminist human-rights attorney.

Question 20

Does Iran follow Islamic Law (aka Sharia)? Is this similar to the way that religious principles of the Roman Catholic Church are reflected in U.S. law?

Answer 20

Iran follows Islamic Law (aka Sharia).

This is similar to the way that religious principles of the RCC are currently reflected in U.S. law.

And it is virtually identical to the way that Ecclesiastical Courts predominated throughout Europe in general and England in particular -- until on the Continent, Napoleon promulgated his famous Napoleonic Code which became the basis of the legal systems for most European countries, and in England, secular courts began to predominate after Henry VIII detached the English branch of the Roman Catholic Church as a result of his marital troubles.

Question 21

Was one of Winston Churchill’s primary principles that ideas create organizations and ideas blow them away?

Answer 21


Question 22

Throughout the Cold War, did the Soviet Union use the destruction of Israel as a Churchillian “idea” for trying to destroy American influence in the Middle East? In the wake of the Cold War, has Iran replaced the Soviet Union in using the destruction of Israel as a Churchillian “idea” for trying to destroy American influence in the Middle East?

Answer 22

Yes. Yes.

Question 23

Has the American-led boycott of Iran had much effect?

Answer 23

Please see Q&A-24.

Question 24

Or has the real devastation of the Iranian economy been caused by Non-Arab Iran’s deathly enemies, the Arab “Gulf State Six” (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman), opening the spigots to flood the world market with oil and drive its price down by more than 50%?

Answer 24

The real economic devastation of the Iranian economy has been caused by the Gulf State Six driving down the price of oil by more than 50%.

[NB: As we have studied many times in the past, each of the Gulf State Six as well as Egypt and Turkey has announced that each will acquire nuclear weapons as soon as Iran does.]

Incidentally, the same relative devastation is true vis-à-vis Russia over its invasion and dismemberment of Ukraine -- the American-led boycott of Russia has had comparatively little effect and the real devastation of the Russian economy has been a by-product of the “oil war” that the Gulf State Six have been waging against Iran.

Question 25

Is Iran likely to succumb to such pressure, or will it accept the temporary economic sacrifice necessary to achieve the nuclear weapons that Ukraine was stupid enough to surrender?

Answer 25

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Question 26

Did the NY Times report that Iran tested its nuclear weapons several years ago in North Korea?

Answer 26

For our 11/13/2013 meeting on the character of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Yours Truly posted the 2/11/2013 NY Times article by David Sanger (the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Chief Washington Correspondent for the NY Times) and Choe Sang-Hun (the Pulitzer-Prize-winning South Korean Correspondent for the NY Times) that the third round of nuclear tests had been conducted in North Korea the day before.

[The text of that article is posted below as a Reply to this posting.]

It was widely reported that “there was an incredibly-large delegation of Iran’s nuclear scientists in attendance” at the 2/10/2013 nuclear test in North Korea.

And the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration recognized the possibility that the North Koreans were permitting Iran to test one of its nuclear weapons in North Korea. Implying without stating that in the wake of the successful 2/10/2013 test, Iran does in fact have fully-tested fully-operational nuclear weapons which can be delivered by suitcase if not by missile.

The 15th paragraph of their article states --

“The Iranians are also pursuing uranium enrichment, and one senior American official said two weeks ago that ‘it’s very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.’ Some believe that the country may have been planning two simultaneous tests, but it could take time to sort out the data.”

For our 11/13/2013 meeting, Yours Truly posted the following comments --

With respect to the last sentence of the quoted paragraph, it is difficult to determine whether David Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun are naïve, mendacious or merely ill-informed!!! Or whether they are simply reporting the naïveté, mendacity or ignorance of others!!!

The idea of two simultaneous nuclear tests is risible!!!

Obviously, anyone who believed that two simultaneous nuclear tests had been planned, one for North Korea and one for Iran, has never read Seymour Hersh’s “The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal & American Foreign Policy” (Random House – Oct 1991), and is ignorant of such joint ventures as the British-French Concorde and the European Airbus!!!

Seymour Hersh, who chronicled among other things how the mere existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons which would have destroyed half-a-dozen Soviet cities forced Henry Kissinger to save Israel from annihilation in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, also chronicled how the Israeli nuclear weapons had been developed jointly with the old Apartheid Regime of South Africa.

And, no, there were NOT separate Israeli and South African nuclear weapons detonated off the coast of Madagascar during hurricanes so as to be undetectable by American spy satellites. [One of which tests Hersh reported happened to detonate while the eye of a hurricane was passing over the site so that it was indeed caught by American spy satellites, causing the U.S. government to cover up for Israel by claiming that the initial media stories about the test were erroneous because the American spy satellites had malfunctioned.]

And, no, when Britain and France developed the commercial super-sonic passenger jet, they did NOT develop and test two different Concordes and then fly commercially two different Concordes for 27 years 1976-2003!!!

And, no, when Airbus which for decades has manufactured half of the world’s commercial aircraft, was formed by Britain, France and Germany, they did NOT test three different versions of each Airbus model so that British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa would merely be engaging in joint research following which each would fly different aircraft!!!

So, David Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun, why would anyone think for a minute that unlike Israel and Apartheid South Africa on their nuclear-weapons program, unlike the Brits and French on the Concorde, and unlike the Brits, French and Germans on Airbus, the easily-inferable nuclear joint venture of North Korea and Iran is merely a nuclear-research joint venture rather than a nuclear-research-and-development joint venture???

Leading to the false conclusion that if it can be shown that there were not two separate nuclear tests on 2/10/2013, then there can be no nuclear joint venture between North Korea and Iran!!!

And so, David Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun, is the Red Herring described in the last sentence of your paragraph quoted above as believed by “some” merely your attempt to muddy the waters about the nuclear joint venture between North Korea and Iran, or are you actually reporting on an attempt by others to muddy the waters???

Question 27

If the NY Times article is correct, aren’t our current nuclear negotiations with Iran nothing more than an attempt get Iran to agree not to test any additional nuclear weapons so that we can pretend Iran doesn’t have them -- much like the U.S. was able to pretend for 13 years (1985-1998) that Pakistan didn’t have them?

Answer 27

What do you think??? Let’s discuss!!!

Posts: 1962
Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:43 pm

Text of the NY Times Article on the Third N. Korean Nuclear

Post by johnkarls »

The NY Times – 2/11/2013

North Korea Confirms It Conducted 3rd Nuclear Test

David Sanger is/was the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Chief Washington Correspondent for the NY Times; Choe Sang-Hun is/was the Pulitzer-Prize-winning South Korean Correspondent for the NY Times.

WASHINGTON — North Korea confirmed on Tuesday that it had conducted its third, long-threatened nuclear test, according to the official KCNA news service, posing a new challenge for the Obama administration in its effort to keep the country from becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.

The KCNA said it used a “miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously” and that the test “did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment.”

Many nations initially detected the test as seismic activity centered near the same location where the North conducted tests in 2006 and 2009. The United States Geological Survey said it was only a kilometer underground, an indication consistent with a nuclear blast. And in Vienna, the organization that monitors the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty said that tremor had “clear explosionlike characteristics.”

Preliminary estimates suggested a test far larger than the previous two conducted by the North, though probably less powerful than the first bomb the United States dropped on Japan, in Hiroshima, in 1945.

The test is the first under the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, and an open act of defiance to the Chinese, who urged the young leader not to risk open confrontation by setting off the weapon. In the past few days a Chinese newspaper that is often reflective of the government’s thinking said the North would “pay a heavy price” if it proceeded with the test. But it was unclear how China would act at the United Nations Security Council, which scheduled an emergency session for Tuesday morning as news of the blast played out.

The United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, condemned the test in a statement Tuesday.

The Obama administration has already threatened to take additional action to penalize the North through the United Nations in the event of a test. But the fact is that there are few sanctions left to apply against the most unpredictable country in Asia. The only penalty that would truly hurt the North would be a cutoff of oil and other aid from China. And until now, despite issuing warnings, the Chinese have feared instability and chaos in the North more than its growing nuclear and missile capability, and the Chinese leadership has refused to participate in sanctions.

Mr. Kim, believed to be about 29, appears to be betting that even a third test would not change the Chinese calculus.

The test set off a scramble among Washington’s Asian allies to assess what the North Koreans had done.

The United States sent aloft aircraft equipped with delicate sensors that may, depending on the winds, be able to determine whether it was a plutonium or uranium weapon. The Japanese defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, said Japan had ordered the dispatch of an Air Self-Defense Force jet to monitor for radioactivity in Japanese airspace.

Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told Parliament that “based on precedents, Japan believes that this quake was triggered by a North Korean nuclear test,” and said the country was considering “its own actions, including sanctions, to resolve this and other issues.”

But the threat may be largely empty, because trade is limited and the United States and its allies have refrained from a naval blockade of North Korea or other steps that could revive open conflict, which has been avoided on the Korean Peninsula since an armistice was declared 60 years ago.

It may take days or weeks to determine independently if the test, was successful. American officials will also be looking for signs of whether the North, for the first time, conducted a test of a uranium weapon, based on a uranium enrichment capability it has been pursuing for a decade. The past two tests used plutonium, reprocessed from one of the country’s now-defunct nuclear reactors. While the country has only enough plutonium for a half-dozen or so bombs, it can produce enriched uranium well into the future.

No country is more interested in the results of the North’s nuclear program, or the Western reaction, than Iran, which is pursuing its own uranium enrichment program. The two countries have long cooperated on missile technology, and many intelligence officials believe they share nuclear knowledge as well, though so far there is no hard evidence.

The Iranians are also pursuing uranium enrichment, and one senior American official said two weeks ago that “it’s very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.” Some believe that the country may have been planning two simultaneous tests, but it could take time to sort out the data.

The timing of the test was critical. It came just as a transition of power is about to take place in South Korea, and the North detested the South’s departing president, the hard-line Lee Myung-bak. By conducting a test just before he leaves office, the North could have been both sending a message and giving his successor, Park Geun-hye, the chance to restore relations after the breach a test will undoubtedly cause.

There had also been predictions that North Korea might hold a test on Tuesday because it is the day of President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Western officials considered the country’s first nuclear test, in 2006, a failure, but the next one, in 2009, was judged more successful. It may take outside experts days or weeks to determine if the latest blast moved the program to a “higher level,” as Pyongyang recently promised.

While intelligence officials in Washington and Seoul are jittery about the North’s progress, there is still no proof that it has yet mastered the difficult technology of miniaturizing bombs so they can be fitted to ballistic missiles. But arms experts declared a recent rocket launching a success, suggesting the country was making advances that could eventually allow it to lob a nuclear-tipped missile as far as the United States mainland.

The apparent nuclear test came just weeks after the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the tightening of sanctions against North Korea for that rocket launching, a violation of earlier resolutions prohibiting the country from testing ballistic missile technology.

Stung by the promise of stiffer sanctions, Pyongyang ratcheted up its threats, vowing to build its capacity to “target” the United States in its most explicit warnings yet. The statement last month, one in a series of threatening statements over several days, said the country planned to test more long-range rockets (“one after another”) and to conduct a nuclear test, despite Washington’s warning that such actions would lead to more penalties for the impoverished country.

Pyongyang has often lashed out when it felt ignored, especially by the United States. It was unclear if the untested Mr. Kim was following a pattern of behavior perfected by his father, the last North Korean leader, in which the North provoked the West and Seoul to win more badly needed aid as an inducement to draw it back to international negotiations on its weapons programs.

Analysts suspect that Mr. Kim, in the face of more sanctions, might have felt a more urgent need to assert his standing among his people, who continue to suffer crippling food shortages they are told is the price of developing a costly and credible deterrence. He also might have needed to improve his standing with the military, which has been considered crucial to keeping the Kims in power, analysts said.

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