North Korea on Tuesday threatened to destroy South Korea and hinted at "stronger steps" after its third nuclear test last week, prompting a stern response from the Obama administration and European nations.
North Korean diplomat Jon Yong-ryong lashed out at a U.N. Conference on Disarmament session in Geneva in response to threats of further international sanctions over the blast and some of South Korea's countermeasures such as expanded military drills.
"As the saying goes, a newborn puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction," Mr. Jon said at the conference.
European and American officials quickly denounced Mr. Jon's threats and warned that they would only lead to further punishments for the reclusive communist regime.
"[North Korea] will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," said State Department spokesman Noel Clay.
"We are extremely concerned by North Korea's continued provocations and complete disregard of its international obligations," said Iona Thomas, spokeswoman for Britain's mission to the United Nations. "North Korea's repeated provocations only serve to increase regional and international tension and hinder the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula."
There was no official response from China to Mr. Jon's comment Tuesday. China provides North Korea with crucial economic aid.
However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov provided a clue.
Russia is opposed to more economic sanctions on North Korea, Mr. Gatilov said at a news conference, according to a report by RT, a Russian news channel.
"We understand our Chinese colleagues have similar views," he added.
North Korea lashed out most recently in response to threats of further international sanctions and South Korea's alert for its armed forces since the Feb. 12 nuclear test.
The South began naval exercises Tuesday in the East Sea/Sea of Japan that had U.S. surveillance aircraft working with Seoul's ships and submarines in the two allies' third set of military drills since the North's nuclear blast.
Mr. Jon said North Korea could follow its nuclear test with stronger steps.
"If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward [North Korea] to the last, rendering the situation complicated, [North Korea] will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession," he said, though he did not elaborate on these steps.
U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy wrote on Twitter that she found the threat against South Korea "offensive."
Spanish Ambassador Javier Gil Catalina said the North Korean's comment appeared to be a breach of international law.
"In the 30 years of my career, I've never heard anything like it and it seems to me that we are not speaking about something that is even admissible. We are speaking about a threat of the use of force that is prohibited by Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter," Mr. Catalina said, according to Reuters.
The South Korean Defense Ministry said last week that it was preparing for "various provocations, terrorist acts and cyberattacks" by North Korea. The two nations are technically still at war because Korean War battles ended in 1953 with only a temporary truce rather than a permanent peace agreement.
In his departure speech Tuesday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who leaves office next week, said the North's increasing isolation and escalating sanctions were drawing it closer to "a dead end."
North Korea confirmed last week that it had tested a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force," a development that would put Pyongyang closer to having a usable nuclear warhead to deploy atop a ballistic missile.
North Korea said the test was in response to U.S.-led U.N. sanctions on the communist nation after Pyongyang launched the long-range rocket in December. Indeed, North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 in response to U.N. sanctions.
However, the international response to the test suggests tensions are likely to spiral upward as several nations have moved to tighten the screws on North Korea.
The European Union on Monday imposed additional trade and economic sanctions and demanded that North Korea abstain from further nuclear tests and sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The U.S. is pushing for stronger U.N. Security Council sanctions.
U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718, 1874 and 2087 demand that North Korea not conduct any more nuclear tests. In January, the United Nations vowed to take significant action if North Korea tested a nuclear device.
"The United States calls on [North Korea] to refrain from additional provocative actions that would violate its international obligations and run counter to its commitments," said Mr. Clay of the State Department.
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