The U.N. Security Council imposed punishing new sanctions on North Korea Friday, toughening an arms embargo and authorizing ship searches on the high seas in an attempt to thwart the reclusive nation's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The unanimous support for the resolution reflected international disapproval for recent actions by North Korea, which defied the council by conducting a second nuclear test on May 25 and heightened global tensions with recent missile launches that raised the specter of a renegade nuclear state.
North Korea has repeatedly warned that it would view new sanctions as a declaration of war, but it boycotted Friday's vote — in sharp contrast to the October 2006 Security Council meeting where sanctions were imposed after the country's first nuclear test. Then, the North Korean ambassador immediately rejected the resolution, accused council members of "gangster-like" action and walked out of the council chamber.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who shepherded the resolution through two weeks of complex and sometimes difficult negotiations, told reporters in Washington that the administration was "very pleased" with the council's "unprecedented" and "innovative" action.
She cautioned that North Korea could react to the resolution with "further provocation."
"There's reason to believe they may respond in an irresponsible fashion to this," she said.
North Korea said Monday in its main newspaper that it would respond to any new sanctions with "corresponding self-defense measures." On Tuesday, the North said it would use nuclear weapons in a "merciless offensive" if provoked.
The resolution seeks to deprive North Korea of financing and material for its weapons program and bans the communist country's lucrative arms exports, especially missiles. It does not ban normal trade, but does call on international financial institutions to halt grants, aid or loans to the North except for humanitarian, development and denuclearization programs.
China and Russia, the North's closest allies, supported the resolution, but stressed that it did not authorize the use of force against North Korea, a key demand by both countries. Diplomats said during the negotiations both countries pushed to ensure that the measures not hurt ordinary people in North Korea who face daily hardships.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the North's repeat nuclear test "a serious blow" to efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and said the resolution was "an appropriate response," targeted at the weapons programs.
China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Yesui said the nuclear test had affected regional peace and security. He strongly urged North Korea to promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and return quickly to Beijing-hosted six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program.
The resolution demonstrates the international community's "firm opposition" to the atomic test, Zhang said, but it also "sends a positive signal" by showing the council's determination to resolve the issue "peacefully through dialogue and negotiations."
The provisions most likely to anger the North Koreans deal with searches of cargo heading to or from the country.
The resolution calls on all countries to inspect North Korea cargo at their airports, seaports or on land if they have "information that provides reasonable grounds to believe" it contains banned arms or weapons, or the material to make them.
It also calls on all 192 U.N. member states to inspect vessels carrying suspect cargo on the high seas if approval is given by the country whose flag the ship sails under. If the country refuses to give approval, it must direct the vessel "to an appropriate and convenient port for the required inspection by the local authorities."
The resolution does not authorize the use of force. But if a country refuses to order a vessel to a port for inspection, it would be violation of the resolution and the country licensing the vessel would face possible sanctions by the Security Council.
As a sign of China's uneasiness about ship searches, Zhang stressed that "countries have to act prudently, in strict accordance with domestic and international laws, and under the precondition of reasonable grounds and sufficient evidence."
Rice said the United States would "intensify our existing efforts to gather information that would allow us to determine if there is a suspect vessel on the high seas," she said.
If a vessel refuses inspection, Rice said, the United States will "shine a spotlight on it, to make it very difficult for that contraband to continue to be carried forward."
However, she said, while the U.S. will work to ensure that full implementation is achieved and "the bite is felt ... we're not going to get into a tit-for-tat reaction to every North Korean provocative act."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, urged all concerned parties "to refrain from taking any measures that can exacerbate tensions in the region and to exert their best efforts to re-engage in dialogue, including through the six-party talks," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.
In other key provisions, the resolution demands a halt to any further nuclear tests or missile launches and reiterates the council's demand that the North abandon all nuclear weapons, return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allow U.N. nuclear inspections, and rejoin six-party talks.
The previous sanctions resolution imposed an arms embargo on heavy weapons, a ban on material that could be used in missiles or weapons of mass destruction and a ban on luxury goods favored by North Korea's ruling elite. It also ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the country's nuclear and weapons programs.
The new resolution calls on all countries to prevent financial institutions or individuals in their countries from providing financing or resources that could contribute to North Korea's "nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related, or other weapons of mass destruction-related programs or activities."
U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo called the measures "innovative" and "robust."
"This resolution will give us new tools to impair North Korea's ability to proliferate and threaten international stability," she told the council.