North Korea warns against 'act of war'
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- North Korea has told the U.N. it would consider it an act of war if the Security Council imposes sanctions over the continuing nuclear weapons program dispute.
"They have said they would take such punitive action by the Security Council as a declaration of war," said Maurice Strong, U.N. special adviser on North Korea, following a visit to Pyongyang.
Washington's top arms control diplomat said Wednesday that it is time to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council, which in turn could hit Pyongyang with sanctions.
"It's not a question of 'if' it goes before the Security Council, it's only a matter of time," Undersecretary of State John Bolton said.
Bolton, in Seoul as part of continued U.S. efforts to find a resolution to the stand-off, added that South Korean officials had agreed the U.N. Security Council should handle the issue.
The council could consider imposing economic sanctions on North Korea unless it freezes its nuclear facilities and reverse this month's decision to quit the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Bolton said he was confident the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, would pass a resolution on the dispute soon.
The rules of the IAEA require a Security Council debate when a country withdraws from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, as North Korea recently did. The world body is expected to meet later this week to discuss the issue.
The comments Strong conveyed followed similar words recently from Pak Gil Yon, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations.
"Any kind of sanctions to be taken by the Security Council or anywhere we will consider it a declaration of war against the DPRK," Yon told journalists.
A senior State Department official has said the goal of bringing the issue to the U.N. Security Council was to show North Korea its nuclear ambitions are a matter of international concern, rather than a bilateral dispute between Pyongyang and Washington.
"The goal is to make sure the North Koreans continue to understand in many different ways that this is an international problem that they have created themselves, and that's the goal of taking it to the Security Council," the senior official said.
"It doesn't mean that we will jump into sanctions right away."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would not predict a breakthrough, in spite of the progress that has been made.
"As I'm sure you all understand, negotiating with the North Koreans is a very difficult, arduous process," he said Wednesday.
Further ratcheting up the pressure, diplomatic sources quoted by Reuters news agency said they believed Pyongyang would resume ballistic missile tests should the Security Council begin discussing the issue.
"The North would lift its self-imposed moratorium on missile launches if and when the issue is referred to the Security Council," the unnamed source was quoted as saying.
Testing would follow soon after, the source said.
In 1998, North Korea stunned its neighbors when it launched a medium range missile that flew over parts of Japan. A year later, it announced a self-imposed moratorium on further test flights.
-- CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel and Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.