Manila — North Korea vowed on Monday that tough new UN sanctions would not stop it from developing its nuclear arsenal, as it rejected talks and angrily warned the US of retaliation.
The message of defiance was the first major response to the US-drafted sanctions, which the UN Security Council unanimously approved over the weekend and which could cost North Korea $1bn a year.
The North’s sole major ally China, accused by the US of doing too little to rein in Pyongyang, piled on the diplomatic pressure by vowing to fully implement the new sanctions.
"We will under no circumstances put the nukes and ballistics rockets on (the) negotiating table," North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho said in a statement released in the Philippines capital Manila where he was attending a regional security forum.
"Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the US against the DPRK (North Korea) are fundamentally eliminated."
In an earlier statement released via its official KCNA news agency, North Korea threatened to make the US "pay the price for its crime … thousands of times" for drafting the sanctions.
Ri was among two dozen ministers attending the security forum, including Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and top diplomats from other Asia-Pacific nations.
For his part, Tillerson ruled out a quick return to dialogue with North Korea, saying Washington would consider talks only if Pyongyang halted its ballistic missile programme.
"The best signal that North Korea could send that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches," Tillerson said.
Tillerson did hold out the prospect of US envoys at some point sitting down with Pyongyang, but he refused to say how long the North might have to refrain from testing more long-range missiles beforehand.
"I’m not going to give someone a specific number of days or weeks. This is really about the spirit of these talks," he said.
The sanctions were in response to the North’s two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month, after which Kim boasted that he could now strike any part of the US.
Tillerson, who held separate talks in Manila with Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, also sought to emphasise a united stance against the North.
"It’s quite clear in terms of there being no daylight between the international community as to the expectation that North Korea will take steps to achieve all of my objectives, which is a denuclearised Korean peninsula," he said.
Wang then followed up by warning North Korea that China, which is Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, would be resolute in implementing the sanctions.
"China will for sure implement that new resolution 100%, fully and strictly," Wang said, according to a translator.
Pyongyang’s fiery statement via KCNA on Monday hit out at Beijing and Moscow, which has also offered the North diplomatic cover in the past.
North Korea warned that nations which "received appreciation from the US" for supporting the resolution would also be "held accountable".
US President Donald Trump had on Sunday said on Twitter that he "appreciates" Russia and China’s cooperation in backing the sanctions. Either of them could have blocked the measures with their UN veto.
Seoul sought to extend an olive branch to the North in a brief and rare encounter on Sunday between South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha and Ri at a dinner to welcome the diplomats to Manila.
Kang urged Ri to accept Seoul’s offers of military talks to ease tensions on the divided peninsula and for discussions on a new round of reunions for divided families, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
But Ri immediately rejected the offer and said it "lacked sincerity", Yonhap reported.
Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-In spoke on the phone on Sunday and agreed the North "poses a grave and growing direct threat", according to a White House statement.