U.S. pushes new UN resolution on North Korea
SEOUL, South Korea China remained reluctant to join an American effort to slap a travel ban and financial sanctions on North Korea, but said Thursday its communist neighbor must be told its decision to test a nuclear device was a mistake.
Beijing's ambivalence came as the United States began circulating a new draft U.N. resolution on North Korea that used softer language in a bid to get Russian and Chinese support.
China's response on the North Korean issue has been closely watched by the world because Beijing is believed to have the most leverage with the unpredictable, reclusive country. China is Pyongyang's top provider of desperately needed energy and economic aid.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters that "punishment should not be the purpose" of any U.N. action responding to Monday's test.
But Liu added that Pyongyang needed to be told that an atomic explosion was a mistake.
"It's necessary to express clearly to North Korea that the nuclear test is the wrong practice ... and the international community is opposed to this nuclear test," he said.
The Japanese weren't waiting for the U.N. resolution - which the U.S. hopes the U.N. Security Council will pass on Friday. Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party backed a series of harsh measures Thursday, including a total ban on North Korean imports and a ban on all North Korean ships in Japanese waters.
The measures came amid a North Korean warning that the country would have an unspecified response to sanctions, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported from Pyongyang.
"We will take strong countermeasures," Kyodo quoted Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of diplomatic normalization talks with Japan, as saying in an interview when asked about the sanctions.
"We never speak empty words," Song reportedly warned, without elaborating on the threat.
The Japanese were also lobbying for a tougher U.N. resolution that would include a prohibition on North Korean ships entering any port. Japan also wanted to ban North Korean aircraft from taking off or landing in any country.
Such proposals would likely face strong Russian and Chinese opposition, so the U.S. opted for a softer approach that sought financial sanctions and a travel ban.
North Korea also issued a warning to America.
"If the U.S. increases pressure upon (the North), persistently doing harm to it, it will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of a war," Ri Kyong Son, vice spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with APTN in Pyongyang.
North Korea also condemned a U.S. move to finance anti-Pyongyang broadcasters in South Korea as an intolerable provocation against the North. It called for an end to the transmissions.
Since Monday's alleged nuclear test, there have been daily reports in South Korean and Japanese media that Pyongyang was preparing another explosion. On Thursday, the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo quoted an unidentified source "well versed in North Koreans affairs" as saying a second test would happen in two to three days.
South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, was not immediately available for comment.
The alleged atomic explosion sparked fears that radioactivity might drift into South Korea, and scientists have been scrambling to spot any signs of fallout that would confirm the underground test.
"So far, we have not detected any abnormal level of radioactivity" in South Korea, said Han Seung-jae, an official at the government-affiliated Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety.
Han added that experts, who were analyzing air samples, were still unsure whether the North exploded a nuclear device or that the test succeed.
"There had been little chance of radioactivity being blown southward as the wind had been blowing toward north or east for the past few days," he said.
The country's Science and Technology Ministry concurred with the institute's findings.
Japanese military planes have also been monitoring for radioactivity in the atmosphere but have reported no abnormal readings.
Worries about possible nuclear fallout also inspired more than 600 students to protest in Russia's Pacific coast city of Vladivostok - about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with North Korea.
The protesters gathered outside a university, holding signs that said, "We don't want to be mutants," reported the Russian RIA-Novosti news agency.
North Korea has been demanding direct talks with America, but U.S. President George W. Bush refused to agree to such a meeting in a TV news conference Wednesday from the White House. Bush argued that Pyongyang would be more likely to listen when facing the protests of many nations.
Bush added that the U.S. was ready to defend its allies in the region, but that it would also try to use diplomacy to deal with North Korea.
"I believe the commander in chief must try all diplomatic measures before we commit our military," he said.
North Korean defectors said they hoped the claimed nuclear test would draw sanctions that would speed up the communist regime's collapse.
Kang Chol Hwan, who wrote a book about his childhood in a North Korean work camp, said, "The nuclear test was their last card and it signals the beginning of the regime's end."
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer in the United Nations, Foster Klug in Washington, Kozo Mizoguchi in Tokyo, Alexa Olesen in Beijing, and Kim Kwang-Tae and Bo-Mi Lim in Seoul contributed to this report.