North Korea: Won’t Negotiate on Nuclear Weapons Under Any Circumstances

Defying pressure from new United Nations sanctions, North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if militarily provoked and said it would “under no circumstances” negotiate on its nuclear and missile weapons programs.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Monday delivered the strongly worded statement to reporters on the sidelines of an Asian regional security conference hours after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed to implement the stiffest sanctions yet imposed on the Pyongyang regime.

Washington is seeking to build support in its campaign to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear program after the country launched ballistic missiles last month capable of reaching the U.S. The sanctions adopted unanimously by the Security Council over the weekend had the crucial support of China, North Korea’s chief economic partner, and Russia.

Mr. Ri’s statement rejected assertions by some Security Council members that North Korea’s military programs constituted a global threat and said they were instead a legitimate option for self-defense “in the face of a clear and real nuclear threat posed by the U.S.”

If the U.S. attacks North Korea, the country “is ready to teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force,” the statement said. Other countries were not being threatened unless they joined the U.S. in a military attack, it said.

North Korea also vowed to forge ahead with its nuclear and military programs, in a statement from its mission to the U.N. In the statement, North Korea blamed the U.S. for the sanctions and criticized the countries that had endorsed the resolution.

“The unwise conduct of the U.S. will only speed up its own extinction,” North Korea said in the statement, adding that the U.S. was getting “more frenzied and desperate” instead of learning to coexist with the country.

Diplomats said the reaction from North Korea showed that the new sanctions would have an impact. “Ultimately, the regime bears responsibility for these sanctions. They hold the key to creating conditions for their removal,” said the U.K.’s ambassador to the U.N., Matthew Rycroft.

The sanctions are meant to close loopholes that have allowed the rogue regime to cultivate trade, financing and labor ties, thereby generating revenue to support its nuclear and military programs. The sanctions ban trade in coal, iron and other items with North Korea and bar countries from employing North Korean laborers and entering into joint ventures with Pyongyang.

The sanctions resolution aims to cut a third, or $1 billion, from North Korea’s annual foreign revenue.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Tillerson said that if North Korea wants talks with Washington, it must first stop launching missiles.

“That would be the first and strongest signal,” he said. “We have not had extended periods of time where they were not taking some type of provocative action by launching ballistic missiles.”

Asked how long a missile moratorium would have to last to be taken as a signal, Mr. Tillerson said, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

Mr. Tillerson said the next step for the U.S. is to see that sanctions are fully enforced around the world. The U.S. will monitor that carefully, he said, and have “conversations” with any country not fully embracing both the spirit of the sanctions and their “operational execution.”

On Monday, President Donald Trump received an intelligence briefing and spoke for an hour with Mr. Tillerson and Chief of Staff John Kelly to discuss North Korea, the White House said.

At a dinner for conference attendees Sunday, North Korea‘s Mr. Ri told his South Korean counterpart that Seoul’s offer last month of talks lacked “sincerity,” Yonhap News reported, citing a South Korean government source. The offer came from the administration of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the country’s first left-leaning president in nearly a decade.

Sunday night, Mr. Moon requested a call with Mr. Trump, in which the two leaders discussed North Korea’s July 28 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the White House said, as well as the U.N. sanctions.

Asia remains divided on how best to address North Korea’s effort to produce a long-range nuclear missile. Some experts say they believe North Korea could develop a missile capable of handling atmospheric re-entry as early as next year. It is uncertain whether North Korea has developed the technology to miniaturize a nuclear device for such a missile.

Australia and Japan said in a joint statement with the U.S. that they were pushing the international community to enforce sanctions and impose additional diplomatic and economic measures. China and Russia say they prefer diplomatic engagement with North Korea, despite supporting the sanctions, and have called on the U.S. to end military exercises in the Korean Peninsula.

Le Luong Minh, the Vietnamese secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the conference host, said in an interview that most of its members “are not for unilateral [actions] and largely not for sanctions. We are for mutual existence.’’

The difference of opinion has left an opening for Kim Jong Un’s regime, experts say, because it is able to maintain enough diplomatic and economic ties to continue developing weapons while stopping short of agreeing to negotiate.

“We are all forgetting that North Korea has only one card to play and no amount of talking or sanctions will change their mind,” said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania and an expert on North Korean sanctions evasion.

North Korea’s recent missile tests surprised the international community with their capability. One of the missiles would be able to fly more than 6,400 miles, according to one analysis, putting Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago within range.

In his statement, Mr. Ri said the North Korean regime was seeking nuclear capability as a deterrent and wouldn’t use the weapons against any country except the U.S. unless another nation aided in an attack against North Korea.

Washington had sought the U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang to make the conflict an international issue, Mr. Ri said. The world was “becoming gradually aware of the danger” of Mr. Trump’s ”America First” policy of prioritizing U.S. interests in international affairs, Mr. Ri added.

Mr. Tillerson meanwhile briefed allies Japan and South Korea on U.S. efforts to urge countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to stop using North Korean contract labor, a U.S. official said. The secretary called the practice “a human-rights concern because of the unfair treatment, trafficking conditions and misuse of wages,” according to the official.

The latest U.N. action makes clear that there is “no daylight among the international community as to the expectation that North Korea will take steps” to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Mr. Tillerson said.

Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the second test-fire of ICBM Hwasong-14.

People watch a news report showing North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile launch on electronic screen at Pyongyang station, North Korea. 

The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea hold a banquet at the Mokran House in celebration of the second successful test-fire of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) Hwasong-14.

The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea hold a banquet at the Mokran House in celebration of the second successful test-fire of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) Hwasong-14.

Army personnel and people gather at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to celebrate the successful test-launch of Hwasong-14. Photo taken July 6th. 

Members who contributed to the success of the intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-14 test launch arrive in Pyongyang. 

Members who contributed to the success of the intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-14 test launch arrive in Pyongyang. 

Army personnel and people gather at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to celebrate the successful test-launch of intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-14. Photo taken July 6th.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts with scientists and technicians of the DPRK Academy of Defence Science after the test-launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14.

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 is seen during its test. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks on during the test-launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. 

People watch a huge screen showing the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts with scientists and technicians of the DPRK Academy of Defense Science after the test-launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14.

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. 

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14.

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides on the spot the underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile. Photo released April 2016. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides on the spot the underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile. Photo released April 2016. 

A new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missle is tested at a test site at Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province. Photo released April 2016.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the ballistic rocket launch drill at an unknown location. Photo released March 2016.

A ballistic rocket launch drill of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army is seen at an unknown location. Photo released March 2016.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance during a tactical rocket firing drill carried out by units of the Korean People’s Army Strategic Force in the western sector of the front. Photo taken July 2014.

A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang. Photo taken July 2013.

The Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket carrying the second version of Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, is launched at West Sea Satellite Launch Site in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province. Photo taken December 2012.

Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang. Photo taken April 2012.

A North Korean KRT TV presenter announces the successful launch of a long-range rocket by North Korea in December 2012.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un smokes a cigarette at the General Satellite Control and Command Center after the launch of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket carrying the second version of Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite at West Sea Satellite Launch Site in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province. Photo taken December 2012.

A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang. Photo taken April 2012.

North Korean scientists work as a screen shows the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket being launched from a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control center in Cholsan county. Photo taken December 2012.

A Taepodong-2 rocket is seen after being launched from the North Korean rocket launch facility in Musudan Ri. Photo taken April 2009.

A North Korean missile unit takes part in a military parade to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang. Photo taken April 2007.