North Korea said on Saturday that UN sanctions would only make its nuclear and missile programmes stronger, with the foreign ministry hinting at further nuclear tests to come.
In a statement carried by state media, the ministry said the latest sanctions, which it “vehemently denounces and totally rejects”, had reinforced Pyongyang’s status “as a nuclear weapons state and satellite launcher”.
Even before Thursday’s Security Council vote imposing tougher sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear test last month, the North Korean leadership had said it would conduct more atomic and long-range missile tests in the future.
The North’s nuclear test in February was its largest yet in terms of apparent yield, but outside monitors have been unable to confirm the North’s claim that it had successfully detonated a miniaturised device.
Experts are split on whether North Korea has the ability to fit a warhead on a rocket, although there is general agreement that it is years from developing a genuine inter-continental ballistic missile.
The foreign ministry statement said that the latest UN sanctions, instead of weakening North Korea’s nuclear deterrent, would increase its capability “a thousand times”, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Pointing to a series of sanctions “cooked up” by the UN over the past eight years, the ministry said they had only resulted in North Korea “bolstering its nuclear deterrent qualitatively and quantitatively”.
But there were no signs that such actions were imminent, analysts say.
“The North will wait and see how the United States implements the sanctions, which will take a while,” said professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“In the meantime, China [the North’s sole major ally] is likely to move to have diplomacy back to work,” he said.
China, which backed the UN resolution, urged “relevant parties to exercise calm and restraint, and avoid actions that might further escalate tensions”, describing the situation as “highly complex and sensitive”.
Yoo Ho-Yeol, a political science professor at Korea University in Seoul, said the wording of the latest North Korea statement was relatively moderate, especially compared with the one issued by the same ministry on Thursday.
In an outpouring of warlike rhetoric prior to the Security Council meeting, the ministry threatened a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike against the United States and and all other “aggressors”.
At that time it also warned a second Korean war was “unavoidable”, with both the United States and South Korea refusing Pyongyang’s demands to cancel a large-scale joint military exercise next week.
Both South and North Korea are expected to stage large-scale military exercises next week, fuelling concerns that the current high tensions may trigger a border incident that could escalate into something more serious.
Pyongyang has vowed to scrap – effective Monday – the 1953 armistice agreement that ended Korean war hostilities, as well as bilateral non-aggression pacts signed with South Korea.