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North Korea vows 'thousands-fold' revenge on US over sanctions

North Korea has vowed to exact “thousands-fold” revenge against the US after the UN imposed new sanctions in response to its recent tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, the government said the sanctions were a “violent violation of our sovereignty” and part of a “heinous plot to isolate and stifle” the country.

The UN security council unanimously backed new sanctions on Saturday that could slash the regime’s $3bn in annual export revenue by a third. The measures target key revenue earners such as coal, iron, lead and seafood – but not oil.

Pyongyang threatened to take “righteous action”, describing the sanctions as a crime for which the US would pay “thousands of times”.

The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said on Monday that North Koreashould halt missile launches if it wanted to negotiate.

The UN measures forbid China, Russia and other countries from hiring any more North Korean labourers, whose remittances help fund the regime, and prohibit joint ventures with the country and any new investment in existing business partnerships.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, described the measures as “the single largest economic sanctions package ever levelled” against North Korea.

In a telephone call on Monday, the US president, Donald Trump, and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, agreed that Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes “pose a grave and growing direct threat” and vowed to apply maximum pressure on the regime.

Speaking to reporters in the Philippines capital, Manila, on the sidelines of a regional conference where Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions have dominated discussions, Tillerson said “the best signal that North Korea could give us that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches.

“When the conditions are right, then we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so they feel secure and prosper economically,” he said, adding that unspecified “other means of communications” were open to Pyongyang.

Tillerson appeared to go to some length, however, to avoid being in the same room as his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho, even skipping a dinner on Sunday.

Ri told the Manila conference that additional sanctions would not force Pyongyang into negotiations over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, according to a copy of his speech handed to reporters by a spokesman.

“We will not put our self-defensive nuclear deterrent on the negotiating table … and will never take a single step back from strengthening our nuclear might,” Ri said. 

The statement said North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July proved that the entire US was in its firing range, and that those missiles were a legitimate means of self-defence.

Responsibility for the crisis on the Korean peninsula lay solely with Washington, Ri said, adding that North Korea was “ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force”.

He did not indicate what action North Korea was considering in response to the new UN sanctions.

Tillerson’s trip to Manila is part of an effort to persuade countries attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting to push Pyongyang to end its nuclear plans.

Pressure on China, North Korea’s main ally and by far its biggest trading partner, to sign up to and enforce more robust sanctions has mounted since the regime conducted two ICBM tests last month.

Many experts believe Pyongyang is still some way off being able to mount a miniaturised nuclear warhead on a long-range missile, but the regime now has missiles that are theoretically capable of striking the US mainland.

The KCNA alluded to North Korea’s new capability on Monday, saying: “There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean.”

The White House said in a statement that Trump and Moon had agreed that advances in North Korean missile technology, achieved despite eight rounds of multilateral sanctions in the past 11 years, posed “a grave and growing direct threat to the United States, South Korea and Japan, as well as to most countries around the world”.

In an hour-long phone call on Monday, the leaders said they would continue to apply pressure to the North. Joint US-South Korean military exercises this month are expected to provoke an angry response.

Moon, who supports cautious engagement with North Korea, told Trump the door should remain open to dialogue, provided Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear programme, according to presidential office spokesman Park Su-hyun.

In a Twitter post, Trump said he was “very happy and impressed with 15-0 United Nations vote” on the sanctions, but China has said any punitive actions targeting North Korea must “avoid bringing disaster” to the economically fragile state.

In a front-page commentary on Monday, the overseas edition of the ruling Communist party’s official People’s Daily said sanctions must be employed with precision.

“Sanctions to the greatest possible extent must avoid causing negative impacts to ordinary people and to third countries, and avoid bringing disaster to the country in question’s normal and legal trade and business exchanges with the outside world, people’s normal lives and the humanitarian situation,” the paper said.

“A precision blow is the essential part of sanctions.”

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