Rice to North Korea: Embrace peace and ‘there will be much more than Dennis Rodman available’

Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC on September 12, 2011.
Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC on September 12, 2011.
Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

The United Nations Security Council voted Wednesday to impose one of the toughest rounds of sanctions in the body’s history on North Korea, after Pyongyang threatened the United States with a preemptive nuclear strike.

In a rare arrangement, the U.S. managed to persuade China to support the sanction resolution, the fourth against North Korea. China has grown increasingly irritated by repeated nuclear tests by Pyongyang, including one in February. February’s test marked the first under new Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, implying that the new head of state will continue his father’s nuclear program at the expense of the country’s economic stability.

In an interview with Andrea Mitchell Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice argued that the latest round of sanctions, with China’s support, will have an impact toward reducing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

“It’s going to constrain their finances; it’s going to constrain their ability to procure the kinds of technical materials that they need, and the technology that they need to advance those programs. So it’s going to set those programs back,” Rice said.

“One of the important provisions of this resolution today was to make clear that a wide range of luxury goods, and including some very specific luxury goods, aren’t going to be able to be imported for the leadership of North Korea, which is living large while starving its people,” Rice told Mitchell.

Rice acknowledged the challenges of getting China, one of North Korea’s last and largest allies in the region, to pressure the regime into curbing its nuclear program.

“China is definitely increasingly frustrated with North Korea, angry at this latest nuclear test, but there still are very real limitations on how far it’s prepared to go on a national and bilateral basis to squeeze the regime, Rice said on Andrea Mitchell Reports Thursday. “We continue to talk to the Chinese and make the point, which I think they’re increasingly understanding, that the erratic behavior of the leadership in North Korea is bad for China and is destabilizing a region in which we both have a very significant stake.

Rice did not comment on whether North Korea is capable of hitting the continental U.S. with a missile, but warned, “We have the capability to defend the United States against a North Korean ballistic missile attack, if ever there were one.”

Legendary NBA star Dennis Rodman made headlines and sparked the ire of many after telling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un he had a “friend for life” when the two met in North Korea and watched a made-for-TV basketball program together. Mitchell asked Rice if it is unhelpful for Americans to befriend the North Korean leader, especially as the nation threatens to break the armistice with South Korea that has endured for decades.

Rice echoed a response that Secretary of State John Kerry made to Mitchell in a Tuesday interview in Doha, Qatar.

“I thought Secretary Kerry put it best when he said that Dennis Rodman has been a great basketball player, and as a diplomat, he’s a great basketball player,” Rice said.

“We’ve tried to show North Korea that there’s two ways it can go.  It can go down a path of further provocation and enhanced isolation and economic pressure and privation, or it can turn on a different path, as the president and others have encouraged it to do, and choose a path of peace, accept the international obligations that it’s under, and then there will be much more than Dennis Rodman available to it.”