The United States has announced new sanctions aimed at the leadership of North Korea. They were revealed in Seoul on Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That is where she and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates held an unprecedented joint meeting with their South Korea counterparts to discuss a perceived rising security threat from the North.
The U.S. secretary of state, speaking at a news conference in Seoul, said the increased sanctions are designed to pressure North Korea to stop funding additional arms programs and spreading weapons of mass destruction. She said they include targeting illicit money-making ventures used to fund such activities and the acquisition of luxury goods desired by Pyongyang's leadership.
"Let me stress that these measures are not directed at the people of North Korea, who have suffered too long due to the misguided and maligned priorities of their government," she said. "They are directed at the destabilizing, illicit and provocative policies pursued by that government."
The sanctions and a series of upcoming military exercises involving American and South Korean forces come in wake of the sinking of a South Korean warship in late March, which a multi-national investigation concluded was caused by a North Korean torpedo.
Pyongyang denies responsibility for the attack, in which 46 South Korean sailors died.
The unprecedented joint visit by Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates is seen as part of Washington's show of solidarity with Seoul, in wake of the Yellow Sea incident.
The two countries, following their talks, warned that North Korea will face serious consequences if it again attacks the South.
There is growing apprehension among the intelligence communities in both the United States and South Korea that ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could act increasingly unpredictable. Some analysts believe the North Korean leader may endorse actions meant to glorify his relatively unknown youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to help legitimize his succession.
In response to a reporter's question about that, Secretary Gates was inclined to agree with the assessment.
"There has been some indication over the last number of months that as a succession process gets underway in the North that there might be provocations, particularly since the sinking of the Cheonan," he said.
Speaking at the same news conference, South Korea's defense minister, Kim Tae-young, said his government and the United States are working together on contingencies in case of sudden change in the North - which he said is a strong possibility. But he added there is no clear indication such a change is imminent.