UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to condemn North Korea and impose stiff sanctions on the communist government in response to its suspected nuclear test.
North Korea’s ambassador immediately rejected the council’s demand to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and threatened to respond to the escalating pressure on the reclusive government with unspecified “physical countermeasures.”
The 15-nation council’s action highlighted the outrage that followed North Korea’s claim of having tested a nuclear bomb Oct. 9. It also marked a rare willingness by North’s Korea council allies, China and Russia, to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.
But to secure their support, the United States was compelled to water down key measures designed to ensure that the sanctions could be enforced. And China – which shares an 880-mile border with North Korea – said after the vote that it would ignore a critical provision that calls on governments to inspect goods entering or leaving North Korea.
Still, President Bush issued a statement welcoming the decision, saying the United Nations has sent a clear message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that the world is “united in our opposition to his nuclear weapons plans.”
“There’s a better way forward for the people of North Korea,” Bush said. “If the leader of North Korea were to verifiably end his weapons programs, the United States and other nations would be willing to help the nation recover economically.”
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, warned that the United States would pursue additional penalties against North Korea if it fails to abide by the council’s demand that it agree to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.
Resolution 1718 bans North Korean trade in materials linked to its weapons of mass destruction program, ballistic missiles, high-end conventional weapons – including war planes and battle tanks – and luxury goods.
It will create a U.N. committee to monitor the sanctions’ effectiveness and to draw up a list of individuals and institutions linked to North Korea’s weapons programs. They will be prohibited from traveling abroad, and most of their financial assets will be frozen.
But the resolution stops far short of imposing the kind of sweeping trade embargo initially proposed by Japan. It no longer contains a U.S.-proposed provision to give North Korea 30 days to suspend its nuclear program or face “further action.”
The text also provides no additional authority to allow inspections of North Korean vessels suspected of transporting illicit weapons. The United States claims it already possesses that power, but China maintains such actions violate international law.
Addressing the council chamber in English, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador Pak Gil Yon told the council his government “totally rejects” the council’s “unjustifiable” resolution. He said it was “gangsterlike” for the council to impose such “coercive” measures. He walked out of the U.N. chamber before the session ended.
U.S. officials believe the resolution will give them the international tools to begin to put the squeeze on North Korea. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Japan, South Korea and China later this week to discuss implementation of the resolution as well as possible actions by countries to punish Pyongyang, U.S. officials said.
The Japanese government, the closest ally of the United States on the North Korean issue, has already imposed sweeping economic sanctions on North Korea in response to the nuclear test. Rice will seek to convince South Korea and China – which have deep economic ties with North Korea – to also tighten the vise, officials said.
“There is such a political backlash against North Korea that people are more willing to consider unilateral actions,” said a senior State Department official. “The net effect is that the North Koreans find themselves in a substantially different place,” even with China.