North Korea threatens "war" if South Korea takes part in new U.N. sanctions
South Korean soldiers patrol in Paju, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas, Jan. 25, 2013. / JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Seoul, South Korea North Korea continued its barrage of fiery rhetoric Friday, warning South Korea of "strong physical countermeasures" if Seoul takes part in new U.N. sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for a December rocket launch.
"Sanctions mean war and a declaration of war against us," the Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland said in a statement carried by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.
Meanwhile, a representative for South Korea's new president said she would not tolerate North Korean provocations, but would continue to push for dialogue with Pyongyang. A special envoy to President-elect Park Geun-hye made the remarks just hours after the North's top governing body declared it would continue atomic tests and rocket launches.
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Park is strongly urging North Korea to refrain from conducting a nuclear test that could only worsen the tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of a provocative long-range rocket launch in December, envoy Rhee In-je told The Associated Press and selected news outlets in Davos, Switzerland.
"President-elect Park makes it clear that North Korea's nuclear ambitions and further provocations against the South will not be tolerated," Rhee said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Thursday. "In particular, she strongly urges North Korea to refrain from further worsening the situation by conducting a third nuclear test."
The latest warning from Pyongyang comes in the wake of a U.N. Security Council decision Tuesday to condemn North Korea's Dec. 12 rocket launch as a violation of a ban against missile activity. The council, including Pyongyang ally China, also expanded sanctions against the regime.
North Korea's long-range rocket launch
North Korea's National Defense Commission responded by declaring that the regime is prepared to conduct a nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and it made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads aimed at striking the United States.
The commission, North Korea's top governing body led by leader Kim Jong Un, pledged Thursday to keep launching satellites and rockets and to conduct a nuclear test as part of a "new phase" of combat with the United States, which it blames for leading the U.N. bid to punish Pyongyang. It said a nuclear test was part of "upcoming" action but did not say exactly when or where it would take place.
"We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people," the commission said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he has seen no outward sign that North Korea will follow through soon on its plan to conduct a test. But that doesn't mean preparations aren't taking place.
"They have the capability, frankly, to conduct these tests in a way that make it very difficult to determine whether or not they are doing it," Panetta told reporters in Washington.
North Korea claims the right to build nuclear weapons as a defense against the United States, its Korean War foe.
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