[The flight by the B-1B bombers demonstrated the United States’ commitment to providing “extended deterrence,” including the threat of using nuclear weapons, to protect the South, said Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the top American military commander in the country. It was also intended to help counter calls among nationalist politicians and scholars here who contend that the South must arm itself with nuclear weapons.]
By Choe Sang-Hun
An American bomber, center, flying over Osan Air Base in South Korea.
Credit Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea vowed on Tuesday to push for the “strongest possible” resolution at the United Nations Security Council, including new sanctions and the removal of existing loopholes, to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test.
The top American and South Korean envoys on North Korea expressed their resolve during a news conference in Seoul, the South’s capital, on Tuesday, speaking shortly after two nuclear-capable supersonic bombers from the United States Air Force base in Guam streaked over the South in a show of force.
The flight by the B-1B bombers demonstrated the United States’ commitment to providing “extended deterrence,” including the threat of using nuclear weapons, to protect the South, said Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the top American military commander in the country. It was also intended to help counter calls among nationalist politicians and scholars here who contend that the South must arm itself with nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Sung Kim, Washington’s top official dealing with North Korea, and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Hong-kyun, reiterated that the South did not need to build its own nuclear bombs or to reintroduce American tactical atomic bombs that were withdrawn in the early 1990s.
Their intention was “to secure the strongest possible resolution that includes new sanctions as quickly as possible,” Sung Kim said, declining to elaborate on how China, the North’s main ally on the Security Council, would respond. “The situation requires a swift and strong international response.”
Kim Hong-kyun said such a resolution would seek to “close the loopholes” in the existing sanctions as well as to place “pressure on North Korea from all directions so that it will no longer be able to operate normally in the international community.”
Washington and Seoul insisted on sanctions as the only option until North Korea agreed to return to the negotiating table with a commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons. But the nuclear test on Friday, the most powerful by the North to date, and its recent flurry of missile tests showed that despite years of sanctions, the country was advancing toward its proclaimed goal of fitting its ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
The Security Council in March adopted, with Chinese support, what Washington and Seoul said was the strongest and most effective sanctions resolution ever against North Korea, after its fourth nuclear test in January and its launch of a long-range rocket the next month. Like the previous resolutions, it sought to undermine the North’s ability to raise hard currency to finance its banned weapons activities.
The resolution called for inspecting all cargo going in and out of the country, banning all weapons trade and expanding the list of individuals facing sanctions.
But critics identified significant loopholes. North Korea was still able to buy oil and sell its coal and iron ore, as long as it was not used to finance the country’s nuclear weapons program — an activity that would be difficult to prove.
Coal and iron ore are North Korea’s biggest exports to China, which remains the country’s last remaining major trade partner and whose vigorous enforcement is crucial to the success of any sanctions. But Beijing prefers keeping a nuclear-armed North Korea afloat as a buffer against the South and the United States, Seoul’s military ally, to risking the collapse of the North’s government with too severe enforcement of sanctions, analysts say.
The recent statistics on trade between China and North Korea, as well as news reports from their border, indicate that the Chinese still allow a booming network of trade and smuggling across their 870-mile frontier. North Korea is also accused of running fronts based in China or using Chinese middlemen to circumvent the sanctions.
The resolution in March also did not affect tens of thousands of North Koreans employed in factories, construction projects and logging camps in Africa, China, the Middle East and Russia. Such workers send home $200 million to $300 million a year, most of which, human rights groups contend, ends up in the coffers of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
The resolution also did not affect North Korean factories making clothes on contract for Chinese companies, an arrangement that has become a growing source of income for Mr. Kim’s government, especially after the South this year closed an industrial park it had run with the North.
Washington and Seoul said on Tuesday that they would also try to enforce new bilateral sanctions against North Korea. But both have so few trade and other transactions there that their actions would be largely symbolic, analysts said. President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and her diplomats have been visiting countries in Africa and elsewhere in recent months to persuade them to curtail trade ties with the North, offering weapons and trade deals as incentives.
Siegfried S. Hecker, an American nuclear expert at Stanford University, said the latest nuclear test by the North must be viewed with great concern, given what he called its growing ability to secure nuclear bomb fuel.
North Korea’s capacity to produce plutonium remains limited to 13 pounds, or approximately one bomb’s worth, a year, he wrote in a paper posted on the website 38 North, which focuses on the country. While the nation’s capacity to produce highly enriched uranium, an alternative bomb fuel, remained highly uncertain, he said the North could add 330 pounds of it, about six bombs’ worth, a year to a current stockpile of perhaps 660 pounds to 880 pounds.