The U.N. Security Council this morning issued a statement that "strongly condemns" North Korea's detonation of nuclear explosives as a "grave threat" to world peace and pledged to immediately start negotiations on a legally binding Security Council resolution that would impose unspecified new measures against Pyongyang.
The council statement was read out by South Korea's Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, whose government is serving as the Security Council's president for the month of February. Speaking on behalf of his country, Kim said the "nuclear test poses a direct challenge to the whole international community" and that Pyonygang "will be held responsible for any consequences of this provocative act."
The 15-nation council's action set the stage for another high-level U.S.-led effort to convince China to support a tougher Security Council resolution on Pyongyang's provocation. Western governments were hopeful that North Korea's open defiance of its powerful benefactor in Beijing would support fresh penalties against its leadership.
The blast on Monday comes about two months after Pyongyang launched a satellite into space in violation of U.N. resolutions and just weeks after the Security Council adopted a resolution expanding the list of North Korean individuals and companies subject to U.N. sanctions. Before the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who negotiated that resolution with the Chinese, sounded an exasperated note as she prepared for a new round of negotiations. "We'll do the usual drill," said Rice.
Following today's meeting, Rice said the United States would seek to "augment" the range of financial and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang. "The Security Council must and will deliver a swift, credible and strong response by way of a Security Council resolution that further impedes the growth of [North Korea's] nuclear and ballistic missile programs."
Rice recalled that the Security Council had previously warned North Korea that it would undertake "significant action" against Pyongyang in the event of another nuclear or ballistic missile test "and indeed we will do so."
Any action in the council will require the backing of China, which has the power to veto any Security Council decisions. It remain unclear how far Beijing was prepared to go in punishing its neighbor. China issued a statement that reiterated its previous call on North Korea "not to take any further actions that would worsen the situation" and counseling caution by Western powers not to overreact.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, also denounced North Korea, telling the Security Council: "I strongly condemn Pyongyang's reckless act, which shows outright disregard for the repeated call of the international community to refrain from further provocative measures. The test is a clear and grave violation of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council."
"I am profoundly concerned about the negative impact of this act on regional stability. It is deplorable that Pyongyang has chosen the path of defiance," Ban added.
"This third nuclear test by Pyongyang is a serious challenge to global efforts to curb nuclear proliferation. The DPRK is the only country that has carried out nuclear tests in the 21st century. The authorities in Pyongyang should not be under any illusion that nuclear weapons will enhance their security. To the contrary, as Pyongyang pursues nuclear weapons, it will suffer only greater insecurity and isolation."
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