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N. Korea rejects new UN sanctions, vows to bolster nuke force

North Korea on Wednesday condemned new sanctions approved by the UN Security Council following its sixth nuclear test, vowing to strengthen its nuclear program at a faster pace.

North Korea's foreign ministry said that it "categorically" rejected the UN sanctions, which it says are aimed at "completely suffocating its state and people through a full-scale economic blockade."

The adoption of the US-led sanctions served as an occasion for North Korea to "verify that the road it chose to go down was absolutely right and to strengthen its resolve to follow this road at a faster pace without the slightest diversion until this fight to the finish is over," according to a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

The UNSC adopted new sanctions Monday in the wake of North Korea's most powerful nuclear test Sept. 3.

The sanctions include a freeze on North Korean imports of crude oil at current levels of 4 million barrels a year and a cap on imports of refined petroleum products at 2 million barrels annually, or about half the current levels.

It is the first time the Security Council has targeted oil in its sanctions against the regime.
This photo, provided by The Associated Press on Sept. 11, 2017, shows the United Nations Security Council`s adoption of new sanctions over North Korea`s sixth nuclear test. (Yonhap)
This photo, provided by The Associated Press on Sept. 11, 2017, shows the United Nations Security Council`s adoption of new sanctions over North Korea`s sixth nuclear test. (Yonhap)

Resolution 2375 also includes a ban on exports of North Korean textiles, a key source of revenue for the regime and restrictions on the use of North Korean workers overseas. It also prohibits North Korean imports of liquefied natural gas and condensates.

South Korea's unification ministry said that North Korea appeared to be responding at the lowest level but that the situation still warrants close monitoring.

"North Korea has so far conducted provocative acts in response to sanctions, and its foreign ministry also issued a warning one day before the UN vote," Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

"Given this situation, we need to watch further (to gauge North Korea's intention). We are urging the North to end the vicious circle of repeating provocations and sanctions and start a dialogue for the peaceful resolution of its nuclear issue," he added.

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the latest UN sanctions are just another "very small step" and "nothing compared to" what will happen in dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also warned that if China fails to fully implement the new UN sanctions, the US could impose additional sanctions on China and prevent it from accessing the US financial system.

The US had pushed for a complete oil embargo for the latest UN punitive measures. But the council adopted the watered-down sanctions resolution as China and Russia, two of the five veto-wielding council members, reportedly balked at any move that could destabilize the impoverished country.

Experts said that the fresh UN sanctions may not be sufficient enough to prod North Korea to change its behavior.

But it is meaningful that, by targeting oil supplies to the regime for the first time, the international community signaled a strong warning that tougher actions could be taken in the future, they added.

"North Korea appears to have given a less-than-threatening reaction in response to the weakened resolution," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul. "It may be related to the UNSC decision not to blacklist Kim Jong-un -- unlike the proposal in its original draft."

There is a possibility that Pyongyang could carry out further provocations around Oct. 10, the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

Seoul's spy agency said last week that North Korea could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile on a standard trajectory toward the Pacific Ocean around that date. (Yonhap)