The U.N. Security Council increased international pressure on North Korea on Friday to give up its pursuit of a nuclear bomb, adding 14 individuals and four companies to its sanctions lists.
The council unanimously voted to impose travel bans and asset freezes following North Korea's stepped-up ballistic missile launches this year. The tests, including three last month alone, violate existing council resolutions demanding that Pyongyang cease such activity.
The United States, which drafted the resolution in consultation with China, took a strong stance, with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley declaring that "all options for responding to future provocations must remain on the table."
"Beyond diplomatic and financial consequences, the United States remains prepared to counteract North Korean aggression through other means, if necessary," Haley said.
Future launches 'unacceptable'
"The United States is fully committed to defending ourselves and our allies against North Korean aggression," she added.
Haley said future ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests would be "absolutely unacceptable," and she urged Pyongyang to choose "a more constructive path toward stability, security and peace."
Several of the individuals added to the sanctions list were elderly, including one man, Ri Yong Mu, 92. He is listed as the vice chairman of a state commission that deals with military and security affairs, including acquisition and procurement. At least two other designees are in their 80s, and two are 79.
"The individuals and entities that will be subject to the travel ban and asset freeze by this resolution include the senior DPRK officials and its core military operators that are directly responsible for the regime's illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs," South Korea's U.N. ambassador, Cho Tae-yul, told the council.
Sanctions have financial sting
"Some DPRK businessmen and commercial entities are also newly designated, which I believe will help further restrict the DPRK's ability to finance its illicit activities," he added. DPRK is the customary acronym in English for North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
There is growing frustration in the international community with North Korea for its continued defiant behavior. Since January, Pyongyang has test-fired nine ballistic missiles, some landing close to South Korea, Japan and even Russia.
Even Beijing is reportedly increasingly weary of its rogue ally. China has condemned the launches and repeatedly called for a reduction in tensions on the Korean Peninsula and a return to talks.
"The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex and sensitive," China's Ambassador Liu Jieyi said. "At the same time, there is a critical window of opportunity for the nuclear issue of the peninsula to come back to the right track of dialogue and negotiations."
US targets Russians
On Thursday, the United States imposed unilateral sanctions on three Russian firms and one individual for their support of North Korea's weapons program. Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, expressed his government's anger at the move.
"This step is something that is very puzzling and deeply disappointing," Safronkov said, demanding an explanation from the United States.
"It's been shown that this is a destructive approach when instead of diplomatic instruments, the sledgehammer of sanctions is being used as a universal way of resolving issues," Safronkov said. "And this fully applies to the current decision made by Washington; it is not helpful in settling the situation in the Korean Peninsula."
He noted Moscow's disappointment that relations with Washington had not improved since the start of the Trump administration and that sanctions remained a constant of U.S. policy.
"Instead of trying to work through the bilateral backlog in our work, Washington is doing exactly the opposite, and undertaking unfriendly steps which make it more difficult to normalize our dialogue and make it more difficult to cooperate in international affairs," he added.
The United States' unilateral sanctions on Moscow for its invasion and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 remain in effect as well.