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U.N. sanctions North Korea for Feb. 12 nuclear test

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The United Nations Security Council approved sanctions on North Korea for its Feb. 12 nuclear test, ignoring Pyongyang's first-ever threat to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States and South Korea.

By a unanimous 15-0 vote on Thursday, the council approved sanctions on North Korean banking, travel by senior officials and trade in banned nuclear and missile technologies. It was the fourth round of sanctions by the body.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, predicted the sanctions “will bite, and bite hard.”

The key to their effectiveness, analysts said, is whether China, North Korea's longtime protector and source of food and energy, clamps down hard to halt the flow of banned equipment and to prevent the illicit financial transactions that support the nuclear and missile programs.

China has shown increasing frustration with its defiant neighbor and accepted most of what the United States sought in a three-week negotiation over the proposed resolution, diplomats said. Yet China wants to send the impoverished regime a signal without risking its collapse, which Beijing fears could send waves of refugees across its border and potentially put a unified, U.S.-backed Korea on its doorstep.

Its enforcement of past sanctions has been spotty.

The sanctions expand other countries' authority to inspect North Korean cargo and lengthen a list of goods that Pyongyang is prohibited from importing. They further limit North Korea's dealings with foreign banks and impose additional rules on the conduct of diplomats.

As the hour of the vote approached, North Korea stepped up its angry rhetoric. It declared that because the United States and South Korea were conducting military exercises — which it viewed as the prelude to a nuclear attack on the north — Pyongyang would “exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

The agency said that Pyongyang was no longer observing the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and was free to attack its enemies at any time.

The State Department, while describing North Korea's rhetoric as “not new,” sought to assure the public that the United States could defend itself, as well as Japan and South Korea, against a North Korean missile attack.

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