North Korea doubled down on its nuclear weapons and missile drive Wednesday, vowing to continue to develop the programs “at a faster pace,” one day after the U.N. slapped the isolated nation with the toughest round of sanctions yet over its sixth nuclear test, which experts said may have had an explosive yield of 250 kilotons.
“The adoption of another illegal and evil ‘resolution on sanctions’ piloted by the U.S. served as an occasion for the DPRK to verify that the road it chose to go down was absolutely right,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, using the acronym for the North’s official name.
The North, the statement added, would “strengthen its resolve to follow this road at a faster pace without the slightest diversion until this fight to the finish is over.”
The latest round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council were approved days after the North’s most powerful nuclear test, on Sept. 3. Pyongyang said that test was of a hydrogen bomb capable of being mounted on a long-range missile, a claim that has yet to be formally verified.
However, experts and some governments, including Japan, also have said that the blast was likely of a hydrogen bomb, which is also known as a thermonuclear weapon.
In a report published Tuesday, the North Korea-watching website 38 North said the estimated yield of the bomb was believed to be around 250 kilotons. The website, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, based this on international monitoring groups’ revised figures that boosted the estimated size of the earthquake triggered by the nuclear test to magnitude 6.1.
It said damage to the mountainous terrain at the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site seen in satellite imagery taken after the latest explosion was more extensive than anything seen after the five previous tests.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said last week that Tokyo had estimated the explosive yield of the blast to be 160 kilotons — more than 10 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. Onodera said Tokyo could not rule out the possibility that the test had been of a hydrogen bomb.
Media reports citing anonymous senior U.S. officials last week said Washington also believed the blast was likely a hydrogen bomb.
Monday’s U.S.-drafted sanctions resolution, which passed unanimously, includes a ban on textile exports and a restriction on the shipments of oil products, among other measures. It came just one month after the Security Council decided to ban exports of coal, lead and seafood in response to North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in late July that experts believe puts a large chunk of the United States — including Chicago and Los Angeles — within range of Pyongyang’s ever-improving weapons systems.
U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking ahead of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday, played down the latest U.N. sanctions, calling them “another very small step.”
The U.S. had initially distributed a tougher draft of the sanctions resolution that included a full embargo on oil exports to North Korea. The draft was ultimately watered down to win the support of China and Russia, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council.”We had a vote yesterday on sanctions,” Trump said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “We think it’s just another very small step — not a big deal.”
He said it “was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote. But those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen.”
Washington is reportedly weighing an expansion of U.S. “secondary sanctions” on entities in China and elsewhere that facilitate Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Asked if Trump was considering other actions, including cutting off Chinese banks from the U.S. financial system, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “All options are on the table. The president has also said that he wants every country involved to step up and do more.”
In its statement Wednesday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry ripped into the sanctions, labeling them a “heinous provocation” led by the United States.
“The DPRK condemns in the strongest terms and categorically rejects the … sanctions as a product of heinous provocation aimed at depriving the DPRK of its legitimate right for self-defence and completely suffocating its state and people through full-scale economic blockade,” it said.
Pyongyang has lambasted Washington for its “hostile policy” toward the country and demanded that it be recognized as a nuclear power.
“The DPRK will redouble the efforts to increase its strength to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and right to existence … by establishing the practical equilibrium with the U.S.,” Wednesday’s statement said.
Ahead of Monday’s Security Council vote in New York, the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a separate statement warning Washington that the United States would pay a “due price” and experience the “greatest pain and suffering” if additional sanctions were approved.
It was unclear what the North meant in the statement, but Pyongyang detailed last month a plan to fire four intermediate-range missiles into the waters surrounding the U.S. territory of a Guam, home to major American military bases.
The plan was put on ice later that month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would watch what “the foolish Yankees” do before making a decision on whether to follow through with the firing.
Meanwhile, in South Korea’s latest show of force, the country’s Defense Ministry announced Wednesday that the air force had conducted its first live-fire exercise of its Taurus long-range, air-to-surface missile, which is designed for precision strikes on North Korean facilities.
With a range of 500 kilometers, the Taurus is reportedly capable of carrying out precision attacks on targets in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, even if fired from as far as central South Korea.