North Korea: U.S. Will Pay a Price if Tougher Sanctions Are Imposed

By Jonathan Cheng Features Dow Jones Newswires

North Korea threatened to inflict the "greatest pain and suffering" on the U.S. should the United Nations Security Council impose fresh sanctions against the country over its latest nuclear test, as South Korea backed calls to squeeze Pyongyang's oil imports.

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"In case the U.S. eventually does rig up the illegal and unlawful 'resolution' on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the U.S. pays due price," North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Monday, using the acronym for the country's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Pyongyang's warning came as diplomats haggled over the details of a U.S.-drafted resolution that is expected to go to a Security Council vote on Monday. The proposed sanctions would target North Korea's oil imports, which come largely from China and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

North Korea said it would regard any new sanctions as an attempt by the U.S. "to strangle and completely suffocate" it, and added that it had developed nuclear weapons as a means of deterring American hostility.

At a news conference Monday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha reaffirmed that oil should be part of any U.N. resolution in response to North Korea's sixth and most powerful nuclear test this month.

"Whatever makes it into the final text and is adopted by consensus hopefully will have significant consequences in terms of greater economic pressure on North Korea," said Ms. Kang, a former senior U.N. official. She said it was up to the Security Council members to determine whether to impose a complete ban, or merely a reduction, on oil exports to North Korea.

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Beijing and Moscow, which hold vetoes in the U.N. Security Council, are likely to resist such measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week in a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that Russia exported very little oil to North Korea, adding that he opposed a cutoff of oil supplies.

"We are worried that cutting off oil exports will inflict damage on North Korea's hospitals and on ordinary people," Mr. Putin said, according to an account of the meeting from South Korea's presidential office.

China exports roughly 500,000 tons of oil to North Korea a year, according to estimates by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability in Berkeley, Calif., while Mr. Putin put Russian exports at about 40,000 tons a year.

China is concerned about any moves that could bring about the collapse of the North Korean regime, a scenario that would likely lead to greater regional instability and potentially put a U.S.-backed Seoul government on its northeastern border.

China's Foreign Ministry didn't directly respond when asked Monday if Beijing opposes oil or travel bans on North Korea. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China wants to see the Security Council speak with "a voice of unity" in taking action on North Korea's recent nuclear test. He suggested that Beijing wants any resolution to improve the prospects for dialogue.

Meanwhile, China's central bank issued a notice Monday ordering banks and certain other financial institutions to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions. Though it didn't name specific resolutions, the People's Bank of China notice instructed the banks to update their systems with the names of sanctioned people and entities, to conduct reviews of any past transactions, freeze any accounts if found and prevent the transfer or use of any funds in them.

Separately, Ms. Kang said the South Korean government hadn't discussed with the U.S. or seriously considered redeploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea in response to the North's latest nuclear test. Such a move would be contrary to Seoul's goal of removing nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, she said.

In recent days, conservative opposition politicians--and even the defense minister--have floated the idea of reintroducing tactical U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea to counter the threat from Pyongyang's advancing weapons program.

In several recent phone conversations, U.S. national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster has discussed with his South Korean counterpart the possible deployment of unspecified "strategic assets" to the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korea. That term typically refers to stealth bombers, aircraft carriers or nuclear weapons. The U.S. withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991.

Ms. Kang said that although Defense Minister Song Young-moo had mentioned tactical nuclear weapons as an option in a meeting with lawmakers last week, "at the government policy-making level, there has not been a review" of the issue.

She acknowledged, however, that "public opinion is swinging in that direction, so we watch that very closely."

Ms. Kang also played down signs of friction between Washington and the left-leaning administration in Seoul. Mr. Moon has continued to extend an olive branch to North Korea, reiterating his call for peace talks, as U.S. President Donald Trump has moved to further isolate Pyongyang.

After North Korea's latest nuclear test, Mr. Trump disparaged Mr. Moon's pursuit of engagement with Pyongyang as "talk of appeasement."

"We certainly don't think our policy is one of appeasement," Ms. Kang said Monday. "It's one of strong pressure and sanctions, vis-à-vis provocations, but the offer of dialogue always being there open."

Chao Deng in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 11, 2017 08:04 ET (12:04 GMT)