And it's the start of Obama's second term; his new secretary of state, John Kerry, took office just weeks ago.
North Korea's nuclear test is likely to drive a tightening of U.N. sanctions intended to restrict its nuclear and missile programs, but experts say the effectiveness of such steps is largely reliant on the North's chief trading partner and source of aid, China, implementing the sanctions and using its economic leverage to pressure its ally. China has historically been reluctant to do so.
And while North Korea's determination to acquire a nuclear deterrent make it increasingly unlikely that it can be persuaded to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs in exchange for aid, most analysts — even those who support tougher international action against Pyongyang — still say diplomacy is ultimately the best hope to check its nuclear ambitions.
"North Korea's outrageous behavior encourages few voices for dialogue, and we are therefore in for a period of heightened tensions. Yet at the same time, climbing down from these crises with the reclusive regime has only happened historically through a return to diplomacy," Victor Cha, a former White House director of Asia policy, wrote in a commentary Tuesday. It was posted online by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank where Cha serves as Korea chair.
The latest nuclear test also serves Kim Jong Un's domestic purposes.
By showing his people he has the temerity to stand up to the bigger powers encircling the country, including China, the young leader is calculating that he will win support at home, even if it means costing the country much-needed trade and aid. He's also showing old timers at home who back his father's "military first" policy that he's tough on national defense.
He's also seeking to win the loyalty of the younger generation by characterizing the costly rockets and satellites as scientific advancements meant to build a better future.
Pyongyang is already warning that the nuclear test is just the start of a string of provocations if Washington doesn't change its policies.
"The U.S., though belatedly, should choose between the two options: To respect the DPRK's right to satellite launch and open a phase of detente and stability or to keep to its wrong road leading to the explosive situation by persistently pursuing its hostile policy toward the DPRK," state media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
The risk, he said, could be "a do-or-die battle."
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed. Lee is in charge of AP's bureaus in Pyongyang and Seoul. She can be reached at www.twitter.com/newsjean.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.