by Gerard Aziakou
UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council voted unanimously Friday to slap tougher UN sanctions on North Korea to cripple its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but Washington said Pyongyang might respond with "further provocation."
All 15 members endorsed a compromise resolution sponsored by Britain, France, Japan, South Korea and the United States to punish the Stalinist state for its May 25 underground nuclear test and subsequent missile firings.
The text, which does not authorize the use of force, calls on UN member states to expand sanctions first imposed on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006.
It calls for tougher inspections of cargo suspected of containing banned items related to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile activities, a tighter arms embargo with the exception of light weapons and new targeted financial restrictions to choke off an important source of revenue for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile sectors .
Speaking from Washington, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice hailed the "very robust, tough regime, with teeth that will bite on North Korea."
But she said that "based on past experience and a pattern that North Korea has of reckless and dangerous actions, it would not be a surprise if North Korea reacted to this very tough sanctions regime in a fashion that would be further provocation.
"We demand North Korea take seriously the international community's unbending message in the resolution and comply with it," said Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose country feels the most threatened by the North Korean actions.
Britain's UN deputy ambassador Philip Parham said the unanimous adoption of the text showed that "the international community is united in condemning North Korea's proliferation activities."
The compromise resolution "condemns in the strongest terms" the North Korean nuclear test and "demands that the DPRK (North Korea) not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology."
It declares that Pyongyang "shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner and immediately cease all related activities."
But US intelligence officials have reportedly warned President Barack Obama that Pyongyang intends to respond to a UN resolution condemning its actions with another nuclear test.
Asked about how the Council would react to any new North Korean test, Parham said: "We would take it badly. But we can't speculate now (on the council response). Our emphasis has to be on implementing this resolution as effectively as possible."
A key question will be whether China, which maintains close economic ties with Pyongyang, will seriously implement the sanctions.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "the Chinese and Russians have greater concern about the risk of provoking North Korea" and moved to dilute some of the mandatory measures sought by the United States and its allies.
China's UN Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters after the vote that the issue of cargo inspections is "very complicated and sensitive."
"The countries concerned have to act prudently in accordance with international and domestic laws" and with "sufficient evidence," he noted. "Under no circumstances should there be the use of force or the threat of use of force."
Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin also underscored that the resolution "does not provide for the use of military force" in implementing the sanctions.
In Moscow, a foreign ministry statement said "the resolution is balanced and tailored to the current situation."
Japan's UN ambassador Yukio Takasu stressed that the nuclear issue must be addressed in a peaceful way and noted that the sanctions "are not intended to harm the innocent people of the DPRK."
The text calls on member states to prevent the transfer of financial or other assets that could contribute to North Korea's nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
And it gives 30 days to a UN sanctions panel to extend a list of North Korean entities, goods and individuals to be subjected to an assets freeze and travel ban decreed in a 2006 resolution.
The resolution requires the Stalinist regime to "immediately retract its announcement of withdrawal from the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)" and return immediately to the six-party talks on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula without precondition.
North Korea launched a long-range missile in April, which was roundly condemned by the Security Council. Pyongyang then retaliated by announcing May 25 that it had staged a second nuclear weapons test, following one in 2006.
It also has declared the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War as void. -AFP