North Korea defiant over U.N. sanctions as Trump says tougher steps needed


SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea remained defiant over new U.N. sanctions imposed for its latest nuclear test, vowing on Wednesday to redouble efforts to fight off what it said was the threat of a U.S. invasion.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday’s sanctions unanimously agreed by the 15-member U.N. Security Council were but a small step of what is ultimately needed to rein in Pyongyang over its weapons programs.

The North’s Foreign Ministry said the resolutions were an infringement on its legitimate right to self defense and aimed at “completely suffocating its state and people through full-scale economic blockade”.

“The DPRK will redouble the efforts to increase its strength to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and right to existence and to preserve peace and security of the region by establishing the practical equilibrium with the U.S.,” it said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

The statement echoed comments on Tuesday by the North’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Han Tae Song who said Pyongyang is “ready to use a form of ultimate means”.

“The forthcoming measures … will make the U.S. suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history,” Han said.

The U.N. Security Council agreed to boost sanctions on North Korea, banning its textile exports and capping fuel supplies, and making it illegal for foreign firms to form commercial joint ventures with North Korean entities.

The U.N. resolution was triggered by North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month, which it said was of an advanced hydrogen bomb.

Damage to mountainous terrain at the North’s nuclear test site in Punggye-ri seen in satellite imagery taken after the latest test was more extensive than anything seen after the five previous tests, Washington-based 38 North project said.

There was also activity at another location in the Mount Mantap site involving large vehicles and mining equipment that suggests “onsite work could now be changing focus to further prepare those other portals for future underground nuclear testing,” 38 North said.

North Korea has also tested a missile capable of reaching the United States, but experts say it is likely to be at least a year before it can field an operational nuclear missile that could threaten America.

ANOTHER SMALL STEP

Trump has vowed not to allow that to happen.

A tougher initial U.S. draft was weakened to win the support of China and Russia, both of which hold U.N. veto power. Significantly, it stopped short of imposing a full embargo on oil exports to North Korea, most of which come from China.

“We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, that if it did not follow through on the new measures, Washington would “put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system.”

Another senior administration official told Reuters any such “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other companies were on hold for now to give time for China to show it was prepared to fully enforce the latest and previous rounds of sanctions.

Washington so far has mostly held off on new sanctions against Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy.

Russia and China both say they respect U.N. sanctions and have called on the United States to return to negotiations with North Korea.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the sanctions could eventually starve North Korea of an additional $500 million or more in annual revenue. The United States has said that a previous round of sanctions agreed in August was aimed at cutting North Korea’s $3 billion in exports by a third.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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