UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose punishing sanctions on North Korea including ship searches for banned weapons, calling Pyongyang's claimed nuclear test "a clear threat to international peace and security."
North Korea immediately rejected the resolution, and its U.N. ambassador walked out of the council chamber after accusing its members of a "gangster-like" action which neglects the nuclear threat posed by the United States.
The U.S.-sponsored resolution demands that the reclusive communist nation abandon its nuclear weapons program, and orders all countries to prevent North Korea from importing or exporting any material for weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles. It orders nations to freeze assets of people or businesses connected to these programs, and ban the individuals from traveling.
The resolution also calls on all countries to inspect cargo leaving and arriving in North Korea to prevent any illegal trafficking in unconventional weapons or ballistic missiles. The final draft was softened from language authorizing searches, but was still unacceptable to China — the North's closest ally — which said it would not carry out any searches.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said North Korea's proclaimed test "poses one of the gravest threats to international peace and security that this council has ever had to confront."
"Today, we are sending a strong and clear message to North Korea and other would be proliferators that there will be serious repercussions in continuing to pursue weapons of mass destruction," he said, in what appeared to be a clear warning to Iran whose nuclear ambitions come before the Security Council again next week.
North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon countered by blaming the United States for forcing the country to conduct a test because of its "nuclear threat, sanctions and pressure."
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is ready for talks, dialogue and confrontation," Ambassador Pak Gil Yon said. "If the United States increases pressure upon the Democratic People's Republic of Korea persistently, the DPRK will continue to take physical countermeasures considering it as a declaration of war."
North Korea has made similar threats in the past, and has also said it might conduct a second nuclear test in response to U.N. sanctions.
The vote came after the United States, Britain and France overcame last-minute differences with Russia and China during what the Russian ambassador called "tense negotiations."
The resolution demands North Korea eliminate all its nuclear weapons but expressly rules out military action against the country, a demand by the Russians and Chinese. Bolton warned Pyongyang, however, that if it continues pursuing nuclear weapons, the U.S. would seek further measures.
The Security Council condemned the nuclear test that North Korea said it conducted on Oct 9. It demanded that North Korea immediately return to six-nation talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to dismantle its weapons program without precondition.
It also imposed sanctions for the North's "flagrant disregard" of the council's appeal not to detonate a nuclear device and demanded that North Korea "not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile."
"This action by the United Nations, which was swift and tough, says that we are united in our determination to see to it that the Korean Peninsula is nuclear-weapons free," President Bush said.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who was chosen on Friday to become the next U.N. secretary-general, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the council's resolution "sends a very strong, clear and unified message to North Korea."
"I hope that North Korea will comply with this resolution," he said, urging Pyongyang to quickly return to the six-nation talks on its nuclear program.
In a measure aimed at North Korea's tiny elite, the resolution bans the sale of luxury goods to the country. North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il, is known for his love of cognac and lobster and collection of thousands of bottles of vintage French wine.
To meet Russian and Chinese concerns, the Americans eliminated a complete ban on the sale of conventional weapons. Instead, the resolution limits the embargo to major hardware such as tanks, warships, combat aircraft and missiles.
The council's go-ahead for the inspection of cargo gave broader global scope to the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative launched in 2003 which urges countries to stop banned weapons from suspect countries including North Korea and Iran.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said Beijing allowed the cargo provision to be included in what he called a "watered-down" resolution even though the government is opposed to it.
"China strongly urges the countries concerned to adopt a prudent and responsible attitude in this regard and refrain from taking any provocative steps that may intensify the tensions," he said.
Wang said he did not consider the North Korean ambassador's response the official reply from Pyongyang, which he awaits. "The important thing is not what they say here," Wang said.
The overriding issue, he said, is "how we work together for peace and security in the region."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow got what it wanted — a strong resolution but one that is also aimed at "prevention of a further escalation of tension."
North Korea's Pak told the Security Council that the nuclear test was not inconsistent with the country's goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
"The DPRK clarified more than once that it would feel no need to possess even a single nuke when it is no longer exposed to the United States' threat, after it has dropped its hostile policy to the DPRK and confidence has been built between the two countries," he said.
Following Pak's speech, Bolton took the floor again saying "I'm not going to waste any our time responding." But he noted that North Korea had done Saturday exactly what it did in July after the council adopted limited sanctions for its ballistic missile tests — immediately reject the resolution and walk out.
"It is the contemporary equivalent of Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the desk," Bolton said, referring to the Soviet leader's legendary act of protest at the U.N. General Assembly in 1960.
Bolton later told reporters that the next step is to start work on implementing the resolution.
"Hopefully on saner reflections perhaps they'll begin to accept that if they don't change course, the only future for them is continued isolation," he said.
On Friday, U.S. officials said an air sampling after North Korea's claimed nuclear test detected radioactive debris consistent with an atomic explosion. However, the Bush administration and congressional officials said no final determination had been made about the nature of Monday's mystery-shrouded blast.
The U.S. and other nations trying to persuade the North to give up its atomic program continued a flurry of high-level diplomatic visits, including a trip to Asia by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meant to present a unified front to North Korea.
The resolution invokes Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which the U.S. views as a necessary because it makes economic and diplomatic sanctions mandatory.
China and Russia normally object to the Chapter 7 provision because it carries the possibility of military enforcement. The Bush administration used the same provision to justify its invasion of Iraq, and Moscow and Beijing worry the U.S. might do the same eventually with North Korea — even though Bush has said the U.S. has no plans to attack.
But in a compromise also used in July to unanimously vote on a resolution condemning North Korean missile launches, the text added mention of Article 41 of the chapter, which permits only "means not involving the use of military force."
A Russian nuclear envoy who visited North Korea said Saturday he pressed the North to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said he had a "very useful" meeting Friday with Kim Gye Gwan, the North's nuclear negotiator, but did not say how Kim responded.
Pyongyang has boycotted the six-nation talks for the past 13 months to protest financial measures imposed by Washington for alleged counterfeiting and money-laundering.