The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned a defiant nuclear test by North Korea, calling the action “a clear threat to international peace and security” and vowing to take punitive measures against Pyongyang.
The 15-nation panel, which includes the U.S. and North Korean ally China, issued a statement promising a strong response against the North for conducting its third nuclear test, just two months after it launched a rocket in defiance of a U.N. ban on missile and nuclear tests.
The Security Council pointed to a resolution unanimously approved last month in the wake of the rocket launch that pledged “significant action” against North Korea in the event of a new nuclear test.
“In line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, the members of the Security Council will begin work immediately on appropriate measures in a Security Council resolution,” the council said.
“The members of the Security Council strongly condemned this test, which is a grave violation of Security Council resolutions,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, whose country holds the rotating Council presidency this month, said in a statement after the meeting.
Kim said the Security Council would now consider “appropriate measures” against the North.
A nuclear test would constitute a violation of U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea following its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, including a ban on the import of nuclear and missile technology.
Tuesday’s statements did not directly call for sanctions, but the U.S. and its allies soon demanded new and tough measures in reaction to the test.
"To address the persisting danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities, the U.N. Security Council must and will deliver a swift, credible and strong response," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.
Pyongyang's actions "will not be tolerated and they will be met with North Korea's increasing isolation and pressure under United Nations sanctions," she said.
Rice said that the council should pass a resolution that "further impedes the growth of [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its ability to engage in proliferation activities."
North Korea has said that the test was its “first response” to U.S. “hostility” and said that if threats from Washington continue, it would be “forced to take stronger, second and third responses in consecutive steps.”
Testing an alliance
China’s strong objection to the nuclear test as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council indicates that Beijing is annoyed by its neighbor’s action but it has not stated publicly whether stronger measures should be taken against North Korea.
The impoverished nation depends on China for the majority of its foreign aid and basic goods.
China had reluctantly agreed to condemn North Korea following its rocket launch in December and also publicly opposed any test of a nuclear device earlier this month.
Observers suggest that China, which is undergoing a once-in-a-decade leadership change, may be less tolerant of North Korea’s belligerence and that incoming leader Xi Jinping might be willing to reduce aid as well as to apply sanctions to the pariah nation.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had called North Korean Ambassador Ji Jae Ryong in to express Beijing’s “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the nuclear test and demanded that Pyongyang refrain from talk that “further escalates the situation.”
Yang also called for North Korea to return to a channel of dialogue and negotiation with the international community over the state of its nuclear program, according to a statement on the website of the Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday.
China and North Korea became allies when Beijing sent troops across the border to help the North fend off South Korean and U.S.-led Allied forces during the Korean War.
Fears of a political collapse that would send millions of refugees streaming into China is among factors believed to have kept Beijing throwing its support behind Pyongyang, despite the latter’s often questionable actions.
According to Chinese data, bilateral trade between the two nations was valued at U.S. $5.64 billion in 2011, up 62 percent from a year earlier.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.