Vice President Joe Biden yesterday committed the US to enforcing new UN penalties against North Korea while acknowledging that "God only knows" what ruler Kim Jong-il wants from the latest showdown with the international community.
The sanctions are aimed at depriving the communist country of the financing used to build its nuclear program, with a new UN resolution authorising searches of North Korean ships suspected of transporting illicit ballistic missile and nuclear materials.
"It is important that we make sure those sanctions stick," Mr Biden said in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press. "This is a matter of us now keeping the pressure on."
Ahead of tomorrow's meeting between US President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, in Washington, North Korea warned of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and pledged to step up its atomic bomb-making program in defiance of the fresh penalties.
"They say a lot of things," Mr Biden said. He called the North "a destabilising force in the region" and said there was "a coalescing of that conclusion on the part of the Chinese, the Russians, Japanese, South Koreans and Americans like never before".
On Saturday, North Korea said it has been enriching uranium to provide fuel for its light water reactor. It was the first public acknowledgment that the North is running an uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The two radioactive materials are key ingredients in making atomic bombs.
Mr Kim reportedly had a stroke 10 months ago and analysts believe there may be a plan in place to name his youngest son as the future leader.
"God only knows what he wants," Mr Biden said. "Whether this is about succession... Whether or not he's looking for respect. Whether or not he really wants a nuclear capability to threaten the region. ... We can't guess his motives. We just have to deal with the reality that a North Korea that is either proliferating weapons and or missiles, or a North Korea that is using those weapons... is a serious danger and threat to the world."