The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning North Korea's recent rocket launch and expanding existing sanctions. The resolution includes a "catch-all" clause that encompasses a wider range of items than those included in the list of existing sanctions. It will prohibit any product that could be put to military use from being traded with the North, step up searches on vessels that enter the North's ports, and strengthen monitoring of clandestine trade using cash payments.
North Korea responded by vowing to boost its nuclear capabilities and said there will be no more talks about dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
Following his re-election, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed officials as secretaries of state and defense who support dialogue with North Korea. Here, president-elect Park Geun-hye says she wants to leave channels of dialogue and humanitarian assistance for the North open.
Park also dispatched a group of envoys to China to convey her willingness to talk to North Korea. If the North would simply grab the hand the international community has extended, it would have a golden opportunity to build a better future. But if it chooses to conduct another nuclear test at this critical point, the door of opportunity will slam shut.
Experts predict the next nuclear test would involve highly enriched uranium rather than plutonium, which was used in previous tests. If the North succeeds, the North Korean nuclear crisis would reach a new level. Then the international community's perception of Pyongyang will get even worse, and doves who support dialogue and patience will lose ground.
By rejecting any talks to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang has also put Beijing in an awkward position, because China has been the most vocal proponent of the six-party talks. Park cannot hold talks with North Korea even if she wants to. South Korea must focus its diplomatic efforts on working closely with China and the U.S. to ensure that the North does not make things any worse.