U.N. mulls sanctions against N. Korea

Security Council unanimously condemns claim of nuclear test

U.S. proposes economic penalties

October 10, 2006|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- The U.N. Security Council moved quickly yesterday toward imposing new economic sanctions against North Korea amid a firestorm of international protest ignited by Pyongyang's claim that it had detonated a nuclear bomb in an underground test.

The Security Council voted unanimously to condemn North Korea's action.

Diplomats were weighing a draft proposal submitted by the United States that would bar the sale of military or luxury goods to North Korea and require the inspection of all cargo shipped into and out of the country, among other steps. The actions would be imposed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which authorizes severe measures, including military action, against states judged to be a threat to international peace and stability.

It was unclear how quickly the Security Council might move to adopt a resolution on U.N. sanctions, which would represent a bold diplomatic step in what up to now has been a long and futile effort to halt North Korea's 20-year march toward obtaining nuclear weapons.

But there was no mistaking the widespread condemnation of Pyongyang's announcement early yesterday, even if there was initial skepticism among some U.S. intelligence officials about the truth of North Korea's claim. President Bush, in a hastily arranged White House appearance, declared North Korea's actions "unacceptable" and "provocative."

The North Korean announcement drew unusually strong protests from those most at risk from a nuclear confrontation on the Korean peninsula, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanding unspecified "harsh measures" against Pyongyang. South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun raised his country's military alert status and reportedly delayed a shipment of relief supplies to North Korea. Russia and China joined the international protest.

"Nobody, absolutely nobody, is supporting the North Koreans," Christopher Hill, the top U.S. diplomat dealing with North Korea, said in an interview on CNN. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "is going to rue the day he made this decision."

Bush said he would consider any attempt by North Korea to export nuclear weapons or nuclear materials "a grave threat," language usually reserved for acts of war that warrant a military response.

"We would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences," Bush said.

If North Korea's claim is true, it would vault the country into a select group of nuclear powers, which includes the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India and Pakistan. Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, but has never confirmed it.

Apart from those countries, Japan and South Korea are believed to have a "break-out" capability to build nuclear weapons quickly. Both countries have robust civilian nuclear power facilities and the technical know-how to assemble bombs, analysts say.

However, Prime Minister Abe said today that Japan will stick to its policy of not having nuclear weapons despite North Korea's alleged nuclear test, the Associated Press reported.

"We have no intention of changing our policy that possessing nuclear weapons is not our option," he told a parliamentary session.

The North Korean action also called into question the ability to halt the nuclear weapons program in Iran through international diplomatic efforts, though Tehran's effort is believed to be years from fruition. North Korea began its nuclear arms program in the 1970s, according to U.S. estimates.

North Korea's nuclear claim cast doubt on the effectiveness of any outside effort to turn it from its apparent determination to build a nuclear arsenal.

"We played brinksmanship with a desperate regime, and it failed," said Derek J. Mitchell, a former Defense Department official who dealt with North Korea and Asia policy. "This is certainly not a good harbinger of the benefits of patient diplomacy."

Others said that negotiation is still the only realistic approach.

"We have to talk," said Wendy Sherman, a diplomatic troubleshooter for the State Department and President Bill Clinton's chief adviser on North Korea. Sherman criticized what she termed the Bush administration's approach of "neither engaging fully in negotiations nor fully pulling out of them."

Noting that Bush has drawn a "red line" against North Korea exporting nuclear materials, Sherman said: "It is important to let North Korea know where the red lines are. But so far, there hasn't been a red line the Bush administration hasn't allowed North Korea to cross."

Last week, Bush responded quickly to a North Korean announcement that a nuclear test was imminent. Such an action would be "unacceptable," Bush declared.

"What's missing is a coherent strategy," Sherman said, "and we are paying a price for that."

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