The UN Security Council on Friday imposed sanctions on 18 North Korean officials and entities as the United States vowed to respond to Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests "through other means, if necessary."
The council unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution that put North Korea's suspected spy chief, 13 other officials and four entities on the UN sanctions blacklist, hitting them with a global travel ban and an assets freeze.
"The Security Council is sending a clear message to North Korea today: Stop firing ballistic missiles or face the consequences," US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council.
"Beyond diplomatic and financial consequences, the United States remains prepared to counteract North Korean aggression through other means, if necessary," she added.
China, Pyongyang's ally, backed the sanctions but renewed its appeal for dialogue to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi described current tensions as "complex and sensitive" but added that there was "a critical window of opportunity" to return to "the right track of seeking a settlement through dialogue and negotiations."
"It is incumbent on all parties concerned to exercise restraint and do more to ease tension and build mutual trust, instead of the contrary," Liu added.
Among those added to the sanctions blacklist was Cho Il-U, believed to be the head of foreign espionage for Kim Jong-Un's regime.
The other 13 included senior officials from North Korea's Workers' Party and heads of trading firms tasked with securing purchases for Pyongyang's military programs.
The strategic rocket force of the North Korean army, two trading firms and the Koryo Bank, linked to a party office that manages Kim's finances, were also hit by an assets freeze.
- A warning to North Korea -
The resolution however did not contain some of the biting sanctions that the US administration had floated last month, such as an oil embargo, a ban on maritime shipping, trade restrictions and curbs on North Korean workers abroad.
The 18 names will be added to the current blacklist of 39 individuals and 42 North Korean entities already under UN sanctions.
North Korea has carried out two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of last year in its quest to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.
For weeks, the United States has been negotiating with China on new measures to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea but Beijing has insisted on the need to open up dialogue.
The United States has said it is willing to talk to North Korea if it halts its missile and nuclear tests.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the resolution served as "a warning" to North Korea of tougher sanctions to come unless it changes course and halts its tests.
"If it continues on this dangerous path, we will have no other choice but to reinforce the pressure, again and again," Delattre said.
The Security Council adopted two sanctions resolutions last year to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang and deny Kim the hard currency needed to fund his military programs.
Those resolutions provided for significant curbs on North Korea's coal exports, a major source of revenue, restrictions on banking and mandatory searches of all cargo to and from North Korea.
The latest resolution condemned "in the strongest terms" North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons activities and demanded that Pyongyang abandon all of its military programs.
Russia decided to support the measure despite Kremlin anger over Washington's move to impose US sanctions on two Russian firms that do business with North Korea. (**)