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U.N. to weigh banking sanctions on N. Korea after nuclear test

On a large television screen in front of Pyongyang's railway station, a North Korean state television broadcaster announces the news that North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test at an underground site in the remote northeast Tuesday, taking an important step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile that could reach United States. The TV screen text reads: "Korean Central News Agency reports," and "The third underground nuclear test successfully conducted."(AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

On a large television screen in front of Pyongyang's railway station, a North Korean state television broadcaster announces the news that North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test at an underground site in the remote northeast Tuesday, taking an important step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile that could reach United States. The TV screen text reads: "Korean Central News Agency reports," and "The third underground nuclear test successfully conducted."(AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

The United Nations Security Council yesterday condemned North Korea’s test of a nuclear device, paving the way for negotiations with China to punish the totalitarian regime with additional sanctions.

The Security Council met in emergency session for an hour in New York to discuss measures after North Korea’s third nuclear test yesterday. The support of China, North Korea’s closest ally and a council member wielding a veto, is needed for a fresh round of sanctions. That will require delicate consultations.

In the meantime, the U.N.’s decision-making body delivered a unanimous rebuke of North Korea’s actions read out by South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, who had traveled to New York. Specific measures are still to come, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said. Talks will begin to “not only tighten existing measures but aim to augment the sanctions regime that is already quite strong,” Rice told reporters after the meeting. Banks and financial services are “areas that we think are right for appropriate further action.”

Early signs point to China being on board. North Korea’s ambassador in Beijing was summoned and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made a “solemn representation” to him over the test, according to a statement posted online.

“The Chinese still facilitate trade through finances of lesser institutions,” said George Lopez, a former U.N. sanctions investigator on North Korea.

The Security Council can “do what they have done on Iran – threaten secondary sanctions on banks in the region doing business” with already blacklisted institutions such as Bank of East Land, he said.

The underground test “of a smaller and light A-bomb” Monday was successful, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement. South Korea measured an artificial 4.9 magnitude earthquake at the North’s Punggye-ri testing site at 11:57 a.m. local time, and its Defense Ministry estimated the yield at 6 to 7 kilotons, bigger than the previous two tests. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, had a yield of about 15 kilotons.

A detonation three weeks after the U.N. tightened its sanctions on North Korea indicates Kim Jong Un backs the military-first policy of his late father as he cements his hold on the country he took charge of 14 months ago. The incident comes amid political transitions in Asia and the United States, posing a challenge to policymakers from President-elect Park Geun-hye in South Korea to Secretary of State John Kerry.

“This nuclear test was our preliminary measure, for which we exercised our most restraint,” an unidentified spokesman of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “If the U.S. continues to be hostile until the end and complicates affairs, we cannot but consecutively take high-level secondary and third measures.”

“Enemy forces’ mention of ship searches and maritime blockades will soon be received as an act of war and will trigger our merciless retaliation,” KCNA said.

Leonid Petrov, a North Korea analyst and associate researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, said the test “shows the failure of diplomacy.”

“North Korea is trying to intimidate its neighbors and the neighbors are trying to push for more deterrents, and an escalation of tensions is inevitable,” he said.

For China, the test underscores the limited influence that it has on North Korea’s policies.

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