South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Saturday his country will not let North Korea use it nuclear threat to win concessions, and he called for Pyongyang to return to six-party disarmament talks.
In a Memorial Day speech honoring the Korean War dead, Mr. Lee said there will be no compromises with North Korea when the country threatens the South's security.
The statement came the day after the U.S. government indicated it may impose unilateral financial sanctions against North Korea, in addition to whatever punishment the United Nations delivers in response to Pyongyang's recent nuclear and missile tests.
A South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Friday that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg briefed officials in Seoul about U.S. plans to sanction the North for illicit weapons trade and counterfeit activities.
A State Department spokesman confirmed that the U.S. is considering actions "within the banking sector" that in the past have been effective in influencing North Korean behavior.
Also Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed deep concern about the fate of two U.S. journalists being held in North Korea, and she called for their speedy release.
In remarks in Washington, Clinton said she considered the trial of Current TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee, which was to have begun Thursday, a step toward their "release and return home." The top U.S. diplomat also said she has spoken with foreign officials who have influence with the North Koreans and that she has met with the journalists' families.
Clinton did not discuss any U.S. sanctions against the North, but she made clear that Washington wants the "strongest possible" resolution to emerge from negotiations among countries at the United Nations.
In 2005, the Bush administration imposed sanctions against a Macao-based Chinese bank that served as a hub for North Korean trade, amid charges that Pyongyang was involved in money laundering and counterfeiting U.S. currency. The sanctions, which had a major impact on the North Korean economy, were lifted two years later.
The official mainly responsible for the banking sanctions, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, was retained by the Obama administration and accompanied Steinberg on his trip to Asia this week. That trip was aimed at generating pressure on North Korea in the wake of its May 25 nuclear test.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.