South Korea made its first concrete move yesterday to enforce sanctions over the North's nuclear test, saying it will ban Northern officials who fall under a UN travel restriction.
The South's Unification Ministry also urged the North to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program, and rejected Pyongyang's warning that sanctions could cause a breakdown in inter-Korean relations.
"If North Korea is concerned about the future of Korean people, it should not aggravate the situation any more [and] return immediately to the six-party talks," a Unification Ministry statement said.
The statement affirmed Seoul's commitment to comply with the UN resolution that imposed sanctions on the North.
Also yesterday, a South Korean Defense Ministry report said the North is believed to have extracted up to 50kg of plutonium -- enough for up to seven nuclear weapons.
The communist nation is also working to make a small, lightweight nuclear warhead that can be carried by ballistic missile, according to the report released by opposition lawmaker Song Young-sun.
The North could also drop nuclear bombs with its Russian-made planes, the report said.
A UN resolution, passed in response to the North's nuclear test, seeks to ban the country's weapons trade.
The UN sanctions also mandate intercepting ships believed to be carrying suspect material.
The resolution calls for all member countries to state how they plan to implement sanctions on the North within 30 days of its Oct. 14 adoption.
In announcing the travel ban on North Korean officials, Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said Seoul will also control transactions and remittances related to inter-Korean trade and investment with Northern officials, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.
It was unclear how tough the South will be in enforcing the restrictions. Seoul had been hesitant to take strong measures to support the sanctions, mindful of Pyongyang's massive armed forces poised at the border, its family and cultural ties with the North, and its wish to expand economic relations with its neighbor.
Still, Seoul's decision on sanctions is certain to be welcomed in Washington, where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday urged South Korea to show "a strong commitment" to the sanctions endorsed by the UN after the North's Oct. 9 nuclear blast.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang warned that any move by the South to impose trade, travel and financial sanctions would be seen as a "declaration of confrontation" that would elicit "corresponding measures" from the North. It also said the sanctions could cause a breakdown in inter-Korean relations.
In a sign of a South Korean public backlash against the government's reconciliation policy with the North, the ruling party suffered a humiliating by-election defeat on Wednesday, losing in races for two parliament seats and other local posts, according to results released yesterday.