North Korea swiftly lashed out against the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its December launch of a long-range rocket, saying Wednesday that it will strengthen its military defenses — including its nuclear weaponry — in response.
The defiant statement from North Korea's Foreign Ministry was issued hours after the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Pyongyang's Dec. 12 rocket launch as a violation of a ban against nuclear and missile activity. The resolution, which required approval from Pyongyang's ally China, also added to sanctions against the North.
The Foreign Ministry called the launch a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space rather than a test of long-range missile technology. It said North Korea "should counter the U.S. hostile policy with strength, not with words."
The statement ominously warned that North Korea will "bolster the military capabilities for self-defense including the nuclear deterrence."
The wording "considerably and strongly hints at the possibility of a nuclear test," analyst Hong Hyun-ik at the private Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul said Wednesday.
North Korea conducted nuclear weapons tests weeks after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009, and the region is bracing for the possibility that it may now test a third atomic device.
Satellite photos taken at North Korea's nuclear test site in Punggye-ri last month indicated continued activity, even in winter, according to analysis by 38 North, a North Korea website affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.
The Security Council on Tuesday reiterated a demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible manner," and ordered the regime to cease rocket launches.
"Today's resolution also makes clear that if North Korea chooses again to defy the international community, such as by conducting another launch or a nuclear test, then the (Security) Council will take significant action," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said.
The binding resolution is the first in four years to expand sanctions against Pyongyang. It ordered the freeze of more North Korean assets, including the space agency, and imposed a travel ban on four more officials — limited sanctions that target individuals and specific companies.
"We believe that action taken by the Council should be prudent, measured, proportionate and conducive to stability," Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said after the vote.
Last month's rocket launch has been celebrated as a success in North Korea, and the scientists involved treated like heroes. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cited the success of the launch in his New Year's Day speech laying out North Korea's main policies and goals for the upcoming year.
Washington and its allies consider the long-range rocket launch a covert test of ballistic missile technology, and suspect Pyongyang is working toward mounting a nuclear warhead on a missile capable of striking the U.S.
North Korea claims the right to build nuclear weapons as a defense against the United States, which stations more than 28,000 troops in South Korea. The foes fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953 and left the Korean Peninsula divided at the 38th parallel.
Six-nation disarmament negotiations hosted by China aimed at offering North Korea much-needed food and fuel in return for dismantling its nuclear program have been stalled since North Korea walked away from the talks following U.N. punishment for its 2009 rocket launch.
Since then, Pyongyang had indicated its readiness to resume discussing disarmament, and in February 2012 negotiated a deal with Washington to place a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for food aid.
But that deal fell apart when North Korea unsuccessfully launched a long-range rocket in April.
The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it would rebuff any attempts to engage Pyongyang in disarmament negotiations.
"There can be talks for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region in the future, but no talks for the denuclearization of the peninsula," it said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The decision by China, North Korea's biggest ally and economic supporter, to approve the U.N. resolution after drawn-out discussions at the U.N. may reflect some frustration on Beijing's part toward its neighbor.
"China has limited influence with North Korea," Zhang Liangui, a researcher with the ruling Communist Party's main research and training institute, said in Beijing. "Beijing disapproves of any nuclear test or new missile launch, but there's not a lot it can do."
Peter James Spielmann reported from the United Nations. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.
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