The U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions on Thursday against North Korea for its underground nuclear test last month, in a unanimous vote that came just hours after North Korea threatened for the first time to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States and South Korea.
The North Korean leadership, which had warned the Security Council not to approve the sanctions, said it was responding to threats already made against it, citing the U.S.-South Korean military exercises currently under way as evidence the allies were preparing for “a nuclear war aimed to mount a pre-emptive strike” on North Korea.
The tougher sanctions impose penalties on North Korean banking, travel and trade and were passed in a 15-0 vote that reflected the country’s increased international isolation.
China, the North’s longtime benefactor, helped the U.S. draft the sanctions resolution in what outside experts called a sign of Beijing’s growing annoyance with Pyongyang’s defiant behavior on the nuclear issue. The Chinese had entreated the North Koreans not to proceed with the Feb. 12 underground nuclear test, their third.
Both China and the U.S. presented the new constraints as adding significant pressure on North Korea. Whether it will change North Korea’s behavior is unknown.
“The strength, breadth and severity of these sanctions will raise the cost to North Korea of its illicit nuclear program and further constrain its ability to finance and source materials and technology for its ballistic missile, conventional and nuclear weapons programs,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, told reporters after the vote.
“Taken together, these sanctions will bite and bite hard,” she said. “They increase North Korea’s isolation and raise the cost to North Korea’s leaders of defying the international community. `The entire world stands united in our commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in our demand that North Korea comply with its international obligations.”
Li Baodong, the ambassador from China, which angered the North Korean government by supporting the sanctions, told reporters that his country was “committed to safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula” and that the resolution also stressed the need for resumed talks.
“This resolution is a very important step, but one step cannot make a journey” he told reporters. “We need a comprehensive strategy to bring the situation back to dialogue. We need wisdom, persistence, perseverance.”
It remained unclear if China would be willing to go beyond the scope of the sanctions, cutting off fuel shipments and commercial trade that have in the past helped to keep the impoverished country functioning.
The resolution, which was drafted three weeks after the Feb. 12 underground test by North Korea, is the Security Council’s fourth against the reclusive government.