SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea warned South Korea against joining international sanctions, saying Wednesday that its neighbor would "pay a high price" if it joins the U.S.-led drive to punish the reclusive communist nation for its nuclear test.
The statement from the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland came as South Korea struggles to determine how it should enforce the U.N. sanctions, including whether to help interdict North Korean cargo ships suspected of transporting materials for unconventional weapons.
"If the South Korean authorities end up joining U.S.-led moves to sanction and stifle (the North) we will regard it as a declaration of confrontation against its own people ... and take corresponding measures," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said in a statement.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a sanctions resolution five days after the North's Oct. 9 test, and a South Korean task force met this week to determine how the country should address the measures, including what to do about joint economic projects with the North.
South Korea's participation in sanctioning the North is important because the country is one of the main aid providers to the impoverished communist nation, along with China.
But both countries have been reluctant to impose stern measures against their volatile neighbor. China, North Korea's closest ally, voted for the U.N. resolution but is concerned that excessive measures could worsen the situation. South Korea has expressed similar concerns, although there was no immediate response to Wednesday's statement from North Korea.
"If North-South relations collapse due to reckless and imprudent sanctions against us the South Korean authorities will be fully responsible for it and will have to pay a high price," said the statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
A top U.S. diplomat said North Korea's test has brought China and the United States closer together and both countries want a unified response.
"China has been in a very important relationship with us for many years and at no time did we feel any closer together with China than we felt in the wake of the North Korea provocation," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters during a meeting of Pacific leaders in Fiji.
"I think the Chinese understand that the North Korean ... decision to proceed with a nuclear weapons program is really something quite beyond the pale and something we need to all speak with one voice about," said Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
The U.N. resolution gave member countries 30 days from its Oct. 14 adoption to report on implementing the sanctions.
The South Korean panel, which met for the first time Tuesday, also is trying to decide how to handle the interdiction of North Korean cargo ships and what to do about the economic projects that have been criticized for providing hard currency to the North. The United States suspects the funds might have helped the North's arms programs.
One is a tourism program run by South Korea at North Korea's Diamond Mountain and the other is a South Korean-run industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesong. The North has received at least $900 million under the projects since the 1990s.
South Korea prizes the projects as symbols of reconciliation and has been unwilling to halt them. But it plans to make adjustments to meet Seoul's requirements under the U.N. sanctions.
Also at issue was whether South Korea would expand its participation in a U.S.-led drive to interdict North Korean ships and aircraft suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related material.
South Korea has been reluctant to participate fully in the Proliferation Security Initiative because of concerns it could lead to clashes with North Korea and undermine efforts to persuade the communist state to give up its nuclear ambitions through diplomacy.
South Korea has only sent observers and attended briefings on the program.
South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, a strong supporter of engagement with North Korea, offered to resign Wednesday because of the nuclear test. Critics have accused Lee of being too supportive of North Korea, but even if his resignation is accepted, it is not likely to lead to any immediate change in the South's engagement policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, also warned that pressuring the North could backfire.
"One should never lead the situation into an impasse, one should never put one of the negotiating sides in a position from which it virtually has no way out but one: an escalation of the situation," Putin said in televised comments broadcast in Moscow.