- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

North Korea responded Saturday to the latest economic and military sanctions from the U.N. Security Council with a threat to start enriching uranium and attack any country that stops its ships for inspection for military supplies.

The resolution passed unanimously by the council Friday freezes all funds, credit lines, grants and loans contributing to the nuclear, ballistic-missile and weapons of mass destruction “programs or activities” of the reclusive communist regime.

The resolution also permits governments to halt and search a plane or ship if there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the cargo contains items useful to the manufacture or export of banned nuclear materials.

The legally binding sanctions drew a strong response from Pyongyang on Saturday.

In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, the country’s Foreign Ministry said, “It has become an absolutely impossible option for [North Korea] to even think about giving up its nuclear weapons.”

Any attempts by U.S. and other countries to stop and inspect its ships would be regarded as “an act of war” that would be “met with a decisive military response,” the North said.

The news agency quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying that Pyongyang would start a program to enrich uranium for a light-water reactor. The spokesman also said the North would “weaponize all plutonium, and we’ve reprocessed more than one-third of our spent nuclear fuel rods.”

North Korea is thought to have about 110 pounds of plutonium, enough for a half-dozen bombs, Yoon Deok-min, a professor at South Korea’s state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, told the Associated Press.

Reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods stored at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex could yield an additional 18 to 22 pounds of plutonium - enough to make at least one more atomic bomb, he said.

The sanctions were in response to the country’s second nuclear test on May 25. North Korea also raised tensions in recent months by test-firing missiles.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the sanctions give the world community the necessary tools to curb the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“This was a tremendous statement on behalf of the world community that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver those weapons through missiles is not going to be accepted by the neighbors, as well as the greater international community,” Mrs. Clinton said during a visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

“I think these sanctions … give the world community the tools we need to take appropriate action,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton, in an apparent reference to the latest threats from the North, said the country’s “continuing provocative actions are deeply regrettable.”

“They have now been denounced by everyone and have become further isolated,” she said.

In a February 2007 deal, North Korea agreed to begin disabling its main nuclear processing plant at Yongbyon in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions from the U.S., South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.

But disablement came to a halt as North Korea wrangled with Washington over how to verify its past atomic activities. The latest round of talks, in December, failed to make any progress.

North Korea has said it will test a long-range missile and is suspected of preparing for a third nuclear test, the AP reported.

In yet another challenge to the United States, the North last week sentenced two U.S. journalists to 12 years of hard labor for “grave crimes,” saying they illegally entered the country. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, of former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV, were detained by North Korean border guards during a visit to China on March 17.

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