UN chief demands urgent response to stop North Korea's 'provocative actions'

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he has never seen tensions on the Korean peninsula as high as they are today and he called on the Security Council to take urgent action to prevent "provocative actions" by North Korea.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, told a news conference that U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power has already begun work with key council members including China on a new U.N. resolution, which is expected to strengthen sanctions on North Korea.

He said it's urgent that the council unite, "show firm resolve" and commitment, and not lose time in sending a strong message to the authorities in Pyongyang that their nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches are unacceptable and must stop.

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last Friday and has launched more than 20 ballistic missiles this year, part of its program aimed at improving the delivery system for nuclear weapons.

"The level of tension on the Korean peninsula has gone much, much higher," Ban said. "Never in the past I have seen such kind of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula."

"So it is very important that the United Nations Security Council should be united and take urgent actions to prevent, first of all, for the provocative actions by DPRK," he said, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Ban said the council should also "try to take the necessary measures to send ... strong messages to the authorities of DPRK."

The U.N. chief was asked about the possibility of traveling to Pyongyang to de-escalate tensions and open a new channel of diplomatic communications, "also in view of your possible candidacy as president of your country next year."

Reporters at the news conference laughed, since Ban has often deflected widespread rumors that he will be a candidate for president. Ban replied with a smile, "Thank you for your question, but there are some incorrect parts in your question. Therefore I'll try to focus on the correct part of your question."

He then went on to discuss rising tensions and call for council action.

"Of course, I will continue to do until the last day of my term as secretary-general as much as I can to reduce, first, tension and resolve this issue," Ban concluded. "But practically speaking I have 3 1/2 months to go as my mandate ends at end of this year."

"But we will see what I can do. But I do not have any plan at this time of taking any initiative," the secretary-general said.