The resolution, carefully worded to avoid a veto from China, which opposes driving North Korea into a corner, was passed by 13 votes to none late on Tuesday, with China and Pakistan abstaining. It did not mention sanctions, which Peking opposes, but said the Security Council would consider further action if necessary. North Korea said it would consider any imposition of sanctions 'a declaration of war'.
Pyongyang, long suspected of attempting to develop nuclear weapons, has been under pressure since it refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect two nuclear waste sites and gave notice that it was withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty from 12 June. It claimed yesterday that the Security Council resolution would disrupt its negotiations with the IAEA and possible talks with US officials.
South Korea saw the vote as a diplomatic victory, saying the North could no longer rely on China's backing. Later this month the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, is due to visit Seoul. But both countries are against sanctions - Peking fears this could set a precedent for action against China, and any attempt to impose an economic embargo on North Korea without the co-operation of the Chinese would be bound to fail.
A US State Department official said Washington still hoped that North Korea would be persuaded to reverse its position through negotiations rather than sanctions. He would not confirm South Korean reports that American and North Korean representatives will meet in New York next week for talks on the crisis. After a previous meeting in New York, contact has been maintained between the two countries' embassies in Peking.
Pyongyang persistently tries to paint the dispute over its nuclear programme as a bilateral question between North Korea and the US, as shown by its response to the Security Council vote, but the American official said offers to meet the North Koreans were 'in the context of the international community's concerns'.
Another Western diplomat said the US wanted to capitalise on North Korea's desire for better relations with Washington, which would help it to escape from its international isolation. The Americans, however, had to avoid appearing to reward Pyongyang for its nuclear instransigence.
'We would like improved relations with North Korea in principle,' said the State Department official, 'but we have told them there is a problem with the nuclear issue. We would also want to see progress on matters like people missing in action during the Korean War, the North-South dialogue and Pyongyang's support for international terrorism.'Reuse content