If North Korea feels at all intimidated by the toughest economic sanctions it’s ever faced over its missile program, you wouldn’t know it.
Over the weekend, members of the U.N. Security Council — including the U.S., China, and Russia — voted unanimously to ban key North Korean exports in a move that will cost Pyongyang an estimated $1 billion a year.
The isolated regime responded with customary bluster Monday, threatening to launch “thousands-fold” revenge against Washington for drafting the punitive measures.
The sanctions, which were issued in response to two missile tests Pyongyang carried out in July, include a ban on North Korea’s key exports, including coal, iron, and seafood. They also forbid foreign investments through joint ventures, and prohibit other countries from hiring new North Korean workers.
But Pyongyang struck a defiant tone Monday, insisting that it would “not put our self-defensive nuclear deterrent on the negotiating table,” and threatening revenge against the U.S. for drafting the sanctions.
“We are ready to retaliate with far bigger actions to make the U.S. pay a price for its crime against our country and people,” warned state mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean.”
The KCNA editorial was published hours after the North and South Korean foreign ministers met briefly Sunday night on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum in Manila, the Philippines. During the unscheduled meeting, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho rebuffed an offer of talks to defuse tensions on the peninsula as “insincere,” South Korean agency Yonhap reported, citing South Korean officials.
Despite the North Korean hostility, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, also at the forum in Manila, continued to entertain the prospect of talks when speaking to reporters Monday, saying the U.S. would be prepared to hold negotiations with Pyongyang “when conditions are right.”
“The best signal that North Korea could give us that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” he said. “We’ve not had any extended period of time where they have not taken some type of provocative action by launching ballistic missiles.”
China, North Korea’s strongest ally, has also publicly urged Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and missiles programs, in the clearest sign that international pressure is mounting on the rogue state. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Sunday he had instructed his North Korean counterpart: “Do not violate the U.N.’s decision or provoke international society’s goodwill by conducting missile launching or nuclear tests.” But he also urged the U.S. and South Korea not to escalate tensions on the peninsula.
North Korea’s accelerating program of missile tests has proven one of the Trump administration’s biggest international headaches since coming to office. Pyongyang has conducted more than a dozen tests this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that analysts said were capable of striking the U.S. mainland.