In response to North Korea's third nuclear test, the United Nations Security Council has voted to tighten financial restrictions on Pyongyang and crack down on its attempts to ship and receive banned cargo in breach of UN sanctions.
The US-drafted resolution, which was approved unanimously by the 15-nation council on Thursday, was the product of three weeks of negotiations between the United States and China after North Korea's third nuclear test on February 12.
"Now that the US is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, revolutionary armed forces... will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors"
- North Korea foreign ministry spokesman
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, welcomed the council's move, saying in a statement that the resolution "sent an unequivocal message to [North Korea] that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons".
Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor, James Bays, reporting from the United Nations headquarters in New York, said the resolution was "pretty much a certainty".
The resolution is targeting North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods.
"I think it is fair to say that this resolution does expand the sanctions regime - not really looking at any new areas to sanction ... the North Korean economy, but what it is trying to do is close the loop holes," Bays said.
It imposes asset freezes and travel bans on three individuals and two firms linked to North Korea's military.
'Pre-emptive nuclear attack'
The vote comes just hours after North Korea vowed to use its right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack against its aggressors.
North Korea has accused the US of using military drills in South Korea as a launch pad for a nuclear war and has scrapped the armistice with Washington that ended hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War.
"Now that the US is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, revolutionary armed forces... will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The US said on Thursday it was "fully capable" of defending itself against any North Korean ballistic missile strike.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the US military could deal with any such attack and repeated earlier warnings that North Korea would gain nothing by threats and provocations.
|The UN resolution is targeting North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods [AFP]
The North conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of UN resolutions, and declared it had achieved progress in securing a functioning atomic arsenal.
Although North Korea boasts of nuclear bombs and pre-emptive strikes, it is not thought to have mastered the ability to produce a warhead small enough to put on a missile capable of reaching the US mainland.
It is believed to have enough nuclear fuel, however, for a handful of crude nuclear devices.
The North's unnamed foreign ministry spokesman also said it would be entitled to take military action as of March 11 when US-South Korea military drills move into a full-scale phase as it had declared the truce invalid.
It is the latest in an escalation of tough words from both sides of the armed Korean border this week as the UN Security Council deliberates a resolution to tighten financial sanctions and a naval blockade against the North.
North Korea, which held a mass military rally in Pyongyang on Thursday in support of its recent threats, has protested against the UN censures of its rocket launches.
It says they are part of a peaceful space programme and that the criticism is an exercise of double standards by the US.
In 2010, the North bombed South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island killing two civilians. It is widely accused of sinking a South Korean navy ship earlier in the year, killing 46 sailors.
|Spotlight coverage of tension in Northeast Asia
North Korea was conducting a series of military drills and getting ready for state-wide war practice of an unusual scale, South Korea's defence ministry said earlier on Thursday.
South Korea and the US, which are conducting annual military drills until the end of April, are watching the North's activities for signs they turn from an exercise to an actual attack, a South Korean official said.
"It hasn't been frequent that the North conducted military exercise at the state level," South Korea's defence ministry spokesman, Kim Min-seok, said.
"We are watching the North's activities and stepping up readiness under the assumption that these drills can lead to
provocation at any time."
A top North Korean general on Tuesday said Pyongyang was scrapping the armistice. But the two sides remain technically at war as the civil war did not end with a treaty.
South Korea's military said in a rare warning on on Wednesday that it would strike back at the North and target its leadership if Pyongyang launched an attack.