SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea reacted swiftly to U.N. punishment for its December rocket launch, warning Wednesday that the regime would push ahead with strengthening its defenses — including its nuclear weaponry — as concerns grow that Pyongyang may conduct another atomic test.
The defiant statement from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry was issued just hours after the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s rocket launch as a violation of a ban against nuclear and missile activity. The resolution also tightens existing sanctions by ordering the freeze of more North Korean assets and imposing a travel ban on four more officials.
The Foreign Ministry lashed out at what it called evidence of “U.S. hostility,” and warned that it would rebuff any attempt to engage Pyongyang in disarmament negotiations.
“There can be talks for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region in the future, but no talks for the denuclearization of the peninsula,” the Foreign Ministry said in a memorandum carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea ominously warned that it would take steps to “bolster the military capabilities for self-defense, including the nuclear deterrence.”
The Security Council reiterated its previous demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner” and cease launches. China joined in approving the resolution, the first in four years to expand the sanctions regime on North Korea.
Pyongyang maintains that its Dec. 12 launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space. The launch has been celebrated as a success in North Korea, and the scientists involved treated like heroes. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cited the success of the launch in his New Year’s Day speech laying out North Korea’s main policies and goals for the upcoming year.
However, Washington and its allies consider the long-range rocket launch a covert test of ballistic missile technology, and suspect Pyongyang is working toward mounting a nuclear warhead on a missile capable of striking the U.S.
North Korea tested nuclear bombs in 2006 and 2009, both times just weeks after similar launching long-range rockets.
Six-nation disarmament negotiations aimed at offering North Korea much-needed food and fuel in return for dismantling its nuclear program have been stalled since North Korea walked away from the discussion following its 2009 rocket launch.
It is believed that China may have been willing to join the new Security Council resolution because satellite surveillance has shown activity at North Korea’s nuclear blast test sites suggesting another atomic test may be imminent.
North Korea vowed last week to strengthen its defenses but was not specific. North Korea claims the right to build its nuclear weapons program as a defense against the United States, which stations more than 28,000 troops in South Korea.
The foes fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953 and left the Korean Peninsula divided at the 38th parallel.