U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, center, is mobbed by journalists as he attends the opening session of the annual National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Tuesday.
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UNITED NATIONS — The world moved closer today to tightening sanctions on North Korea for its latest nuclear test after U.N. diplomats said the United States and China had reached agreement on a new draft resolution to punish the country. In response, Pyongyang threatened to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.
The U.N. Security Council held closed consultations on North Korea and non-proliferation early today as tensions on the Korean Peninsula soared again over the February test.
The U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because no official announcement had been made, said the United States circulated the draft resolution on sanctions to the full council. Council members are expected to send the draft to their capitals for review.
The diplomats did not immediately reveal what new sanctions would be included in the resolution.
Any fresh international sanctions are certain to infuriate North Korea, which has claimed the right to build nuclear weapons to deter alleged U.S. aggression. Citing the U.S.-led push for sanctions, the Korean People's Army Supreme Command today warned of “surgical strikes” meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula and of an indigenous, “precision nuclear striking tool.”
China is North Korea's closest ally, but it has indicated it is concerned about Pyongyang's behavior.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Beijing refused to give any details about the deal with the U.S. at her daily media briefing. “We have said here many times that China supports the U.N. Security Council in reacting moderately and explicitly objects to North Korea's nuclear test,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Hours after North Korea carried out its third atomic blast on Feb. 12, all 15 council members approved a press statement condemning the nuclear test and pledging further action. The swift, unanimous response from the U.N.'s most powerful body set the stage for a fourth round of sanctions.
For the last three weeks, the United States, a close ally of South Korea and Japan, has been negotiating the text of a new resolution with China. Lawmakers in Washington this week are also pushing for tougher U.S. financial restrictions on North Korea, which have been tried before with significant impact but have upset China.
North Korea's neighbors and the West condemn the North's efforts to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States as a serious threat to Northeast Asia's delicate security and a drain on the precious resources that could go to North Korea's largely destitute people.
North Korea says its nuclear program is a response to U.S. hostility that dates back to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war. The United States removed its atomic bombs from South Korea in 1991 and has repeatedly rejected North Korea's claims of U.S. invasion plans.
North Korea says Washington and others are going beyond mere economic sanctions and expanding into blunt aggression and military acts.
In Seoul, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said today that “considerable progress” has been made in the Security Council on how to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test. However, spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters he couldn't disclose any details of the draft resolution because no final agreement has been reached.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country holds the Security Council presidency this month, told a news conference Monday that a resolution on North Korea might be approved in March, though the text had not yet been circulated.
Last month's statement from the Security Council called the underground test in February a “grave violation” of three U.N. resolutions that ban North Korea from conducting nuclear or missile tests.
North Korea's three nuclear tests — in 2006, 2009 and 2013 — occurred after Pyongyang was condemned by the United Nations for rocket launches.
The Security Council imposed sanctions after the first two nuclear tests and after the North's rocket launch in December, which was viewed as part of the country's covert program to develop ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.
The North's latest nuclear test was seen as a crucial step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States. Many outside analysts still believe the North hasn't achieved such a miniaturization technology.
The sanctions have been aimed at trying to derail the country's rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. They bar North Korea from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology, and from importing or exporting material for these programs.
The latest sanctions resolution, adopted in January, again demanded that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and cease missile launches. It slapped sanctions on North Korean companies and government agencies, including its space agency and several individuals.
There has been speculation that a new resolution will strengthen existing sanctions related to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, toughen financial restrictions and cargo inspections, and add additional companies and individuals to the sanctions list.