Pyongyang threatened the United States on Thursday with a preemptive nuclear strike, raising the level of rhetoric as the U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions against the country.
The White House said DPRK's threats would only lead to Pyongyang's further international isolation and declared that the United States was "fully capable" of defending against any DPRK missile attack.
China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said Beijing wanted to see "full implementation" of the new Security Council resolution, which tightens financial restrictions on Pyongyang and cracks down on its attempts to ship and receive banned cargo.
DPRK has accused the United States of using military drills in South Korea as a launch pad for a nuclear war and has scrapped the armistice with Washington that ended hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War.
A DPRK general said on Tuesday that Pyongyang was scrapping the armistice. But the two sides remain technically at war as the civil war did not end with a treaty.
"Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest," the North's foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
DPRK conducted a third nuclear test on February 12, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, and declared it had achieved progress in securing a functioning atomic arsenal. It is widely believed that the North does not have the capacity for a nuclear strike against the mainland of the United States.
UN sanctions approved
With tensions high on the Korean peninsula, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to expand its sanctions on DPRK.
The resolution specifies some luxury items DPRK's elite is not allowed to import, such as yachts, racing cars, luxury automobiles and certain types of jewelry.
"These sanctions will bite and bite hard," said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
The export of luxury goods to DPRK has been prohibited since 2006, though diplomats and analysts said the enforcement of U.N. sanctions has been uneven.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, welcomed the council's move, saying in a statement that the resolution "sent an unequivocal message to (DPRK) that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons."
In addition to the luxury goods ban, there is an arms embargo on DPRK, and it is forbidden from trading in nuclear and missile technology.
George Lopez, a professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and a former member of the U.N. panel that monitors DPRK sanctions compliance, said the new measures should have a real impact on DPRK's movement of money and constrain access to equipment for its nuclear and missile programs.
"Now, we may yet see another launch or a bomb test, but over the medium term this resolution will degrade DPRK capabilities to grow its program," Lopez said, using the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Threats and war games
Washington moved quickly after the new sanctions were approved and froze the assets of three DPRK citizens.
DPRK's threats were the latest in an escalating war of words by both sides across the armed Korean border this week.
The North's unnamed foreign ministry spokesman said it would be entitled to take military action as of March 11 when U.S.-South Korea military drills move into a full-scale phase.
"DPRK will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations. These will only further isolate the country and its people and undermine international efforts to promote peace and stability in northeast Asia," Rice told reporters.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration said it had reassured South Korea and Japan "at the highest levels" of its commitment to deterrence, through the U.S. nuclear umbrella and missile defense, in the face of the new threats.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called for restraint and an end to the threats. "Let's keep our minds cool and keep focused on the need for the only possible rational course of action, and that is returning to six-party talks," he said.