UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday for tough new sanctions to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test, and a furious Pyongyang threatened a nuclear strike against the United States.
The sanctions drafted by North Korea’s closest ally, China, and the United States send a powerful message that the international community condemns Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests — and repeated violations of Security Council resolutions.
“Adoption of the resolution itself is not enough,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said. “We want to see full implementation of the resolution.” Li also urged calm and a resumption of the stalled six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
“The top priority now is to defuse the tensions, bring down heat … bring the situation back on the track of diplomacy, on negotiations,” Li said.
Immediately before the vote, an unidentified spokesman for Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said the North will exercise its right for “a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors” because Washington is “set to light a fuse for a nuclear war.”
The statement was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, which issued no immediate comment after the Security Council vote.
In Pyongyang, Army Gen. Kang Pyo Yong told a crowd of tens of thousands that North Korea is ready to fire long-range nuclear-armed missiles at Washington, which “will be engulfed in a sea of fire.”
The White House responded by saying the U.S. is fully capable of defending itself against a North Korea ballistic missile attack.
Although North Korea boasts of nuclear bombs and pre-emptive strikes, it is not thought to have mastered the ability to produce a warhead small enough to put on a missile capable of reaching the U.S. It is believed to have enough nuclear fuel, however, for several crude nuclear devices.
The United States has long been concerned that North Korea could eventually pose a missile threat to U.S. territory. The Defense Department first began to operate a ground-based missile defense system in late 2004 with such a potential threat in mind.
“Taken together, these sanctions will bite, and bite hard,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said after the vote.
“North Korea must wake up from its delusion of becoming a … nuclear weapons state and make the right choice,” said South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Kim Sook said. “It can either take the right path toward a bright future and prosperity, or it can take a bad road toward further and deeper isolation and eventual self-destruction.”
Tensions have escalated following a rocket launch by Pyongyang in December and its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. Both acts defied three Security Council resolutions that bar North Korea from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology and from importing or exporting material for these programs.