WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is prepared to halt North Korean ships on the high seas to carry out the newest United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang's arms trade, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said Friday.
Susan Rice said the United States would intensify its scrutiny of North Korea's trade in banned weapons, and if U.S. commanders suspect a ship is carrying them, "we are prepared to confront that vessel."
Rice's comments to reporters at the White House came soon after the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously for new sanctions against North Korea to register its displeasure over Pyongyang's recent nuclear and missile tests.
Rice said the U.S. Navy wouldn't forcibly board such ships, but would direct them to a nearby port for inspection. North Korea has warned that it would regard such interdictions as an act of war.
The U.N. sanctions are aimed at halting most of North Korea's arms business. The measures also authorize tough financial sanctions that could sharply reduce Pyongyang's revenues from abroad, and call for a halt to foreign financial aid to the isolated nation.
It remains to be seen, however, how vigorously North Korea's key trading partners, including China, will enforce the sanctions, diplomats said.
Russia and China, North Korea's traditional protectors, joined in the vote. China's ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Yesui, said the resolution showed the "firm opposition" of the international community to Pyongyang's recent weapons tests.
At the same time, China has opposed a requirement for U.N. members to search North Korean vessels, and the envoy urged nations to use caution in interdictions.
"We strongly urge [North Korea] to honor its commitment to denuclearization, stop any moves that may worsen the situation, and return to the six-party talks" on disarmament, Zhang said.
Rice said the new sanctions were unprecedented and acknowledged that North Korea may react strongly to them.
"It would not be a surprise if North Korea reacted to this very tough sanctions regime in a fashion that would be further provocation and further destabilizing," she said.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry said today that it would restart its uranium enrichment program and "weaponize" all the plutonium in its possession, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, the Associated Press reported.
The U.N. sanctions encourage, but do not require, member countries to interdict North Korean ships they believe to be carrying banned weapons. If the ships refuse permission to be boarded, they are to be directed to a nearby port for inspection.
If they refuse that advice, they are to be denied port services, including refueling.