• Kyodo

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The United States is planning sanctions against North Korea in the event that Pyongyang continues to develop nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The sanctions would include halting shipments of weapons from North Korea and stopping the flow of money Korean residents in Japan send to the North, the newspaper reported.

“The Pentagon and State Department are developing detailed plans for sanctions, and perhaps other actions, so that the United States has a forceful response ready in case North Korea takes aggressive new steps toward developing nuclear weapons,” according to the newspaper.

The New York Times quoted a senior official of President George W. Bush’s administration as saying: “If they start to dismantle their weapons programs, then we can talk about incentives. But if they torque up the pressure, you’re looking at the other direction. That’s when sanctions become much more likely.”

Talk of imposing sanctions comes amid concerns that it is “a matter of time” before North Korea resumes its testing of long-range missiles or begins reprocessing nuclear fuel for weapons production, the paper reported, adding that Pyongyang may use the U.S. preoccupation with Iraq as an opportunity to advance its weapons production.

North Korea has said that sanctions will be viewed as an act of war.

As Russia, China, South Korea and Japan will not support moves to cut off trade with North Korea, the U.S. is “looking at more tailored sanctions that will focus on banned activities like smuggling drugs or proliferating weapons of mass destruction,” The New York Times reported.

The Defense Department is considering a number of options, including employing U.S. military forces to stop, turn back or seize ships and aircraft from North Korea that are suspected of carrying missiles or nuclear weapons materials, the sale of which the U.S. argues has been a vital source of foreign currency for the impoverished nation.

But this action would warrant authorization by the U.N. Security Council, it said.

The New York Times reported that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld considers North Korea as a “proliferator of missile technology” rather than a specific nuclear threat.

According to the paper, other sanctions would include cutting off remittances to North Korea from Korean-owned pachinko parlors in Japan and cracking down on drug trafficking from the reclusive state. Plans to reduce food shipments are also being considered.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda voiced surprise Monday at The New York Times report, saying the Japanese government is unaware of any such plan by the U.S. “It’s not yet time to discuss sanctions,” Fukuda said. “We are not considering imposing sanctions at this time.”

Fukuda said that halting the transfer of money by Korean residents of Japan to their relatives in North Korea would be difficult.

“Generally speaking, we cannot make (the measures) that strict,” he said.

According to The New York Times, the Bush administration will first urge the Security Council, probably in the coming two weeks, to condemn North Korea’s recent moves on nuclear weaponry.

In January, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, prompting the international community to urge Pyongyang to rescind its decision.

The administration is also poised to urge Russia, China, major trading partners and providers of aid to North Korea, to play a more active role in pressuring Pyongyang to dismantle its weapons program, the newspaper reported.

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