U.N. diplomats say the United States and China have reached a tentative deal on new sanctions to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test, as Pyongyang threatened to disregard the armistice that ended its 1950 to 1953 war with South Korea.
The United Nations Security Council holds closed-door consultations on North Korea Tuesday and diplomats told reporters they hope for a vote on the proposed resolution by the end of the week. Details of the draft measure were not immediately available.
The Security Council already unanimously condemned the February 12 nuclear test as a "grave violation" of existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang said the test - its third and most powerful yet - was aimed at its "arch-enemy," the United States.
Meanwhile, North Korea stepped up its rhetoric Tuesday, threatening to scrap the armistice signed in 1953 if Seoul goes ahead with plans to conduct annual war exercises with the United States. The Korean People's Army Supreme Command warned of "surgical strikes" meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula.
The North has issued similar - though less belligerent - threats before, also timed to coincide with the annual joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises.
A separate report said Pyongyang has also decided to halt the work of its delegates at Panmunjom, an abandoned village along the de facto border where Seoul and Pyongyang meet for negotiations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he would like to see North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "take responsible actions for peace." Kerry said the U.S. will continue to do what is necessary to defend itself and the region but that "our preference is not to brandish threats but to get the table" and negotiate.
The international community has already issued a swift and immediate response to Pyongyang's latest nuclear test.
China, North Korea's long-time ally, joined the rest of the 15-member Security Council in immediately condemning the test. But diplomats say China has been reluctant to agree to tough action against Pyongyang.
A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry said Tuesday that Beijing would support a "proper and moderate" response from the Security Council, insisting that any action be "conducive to denuclearization, non-proliferation and peace and stability on the peninsula."
Diplomats from Washington and Beijing have for weeks been in talks aimed at expanding or adding a fourth round of sanctions against the impoverished Communist state. Speaking anonymously, several diplomats have said both sides are nearing a deal.
North Korea is already under tough sanctions as a result of its previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. In January, the Security Council expanded those sanctions in response to a December rocket launch.
The North says its latest tests prove that it can strike the mainland U.S. with a long-range missile. It has angrily rejected the U.N sanctions, and threatened to carry out more missile and nuclear tests in response to what it says is U.S. hostility.
South Korea and North Korea have been in a technical state of war for more than 60 years. The agreement that ended the 1950 to 1953 civil war hostilities was only a truce.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed across the border in South Korea, and the two sides regularly conduct military drills. The latest were to begin on March 1st with a month-long series of air, ground and naval exercises known as Foal Eagle. Separately, a two-week, computer-based simulation called Key Resolve, is set to begin on March 11th.
The allies' say the exercises are designed to enhance the security and readiness of South Korea and insists they are deterrent in nature. The North sees the drills as preparation to invade its territory.