Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday committed the U.S. to enforcing new U.N. penalties against North Korea while acknowledging that "God only knows" what ruler Kim Jong Il wants from the latest showdown.
The sanctions are aimed at depriving the reclusive communist country of the financing used to build its nuclear program. A new U.N. resolution also authorizes searches of North Korean ships suspected of transporting illicit ballistic missile and nuclear materials.
"It is important that we make sure those sanctions stick and those sanctions prohibit them from exporting or importing weapons," Biden said. "This is a matter of us now keeping the pressure on."
Ahead of President Barack Obama's meeting Tuesday in Washington with South Korean leader Lee Myung-bak, the North warned of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and pledged to step up its atomic bomb-making program in defiance of the fresh penalties.
"They say a lot of things," Biden said in an interview with NBC television's "Meet the Press." He called the North "a destabilizing force in the region."
"There is a coalescing of that conclusion on the part of the Chinese, the Russians, Japanese, South Koreans, Americans like never before," Biden said. These countries have been involved in negotiations with North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons program.
On Saturday, North Korea said it has been enriching uranium to provide fuel for its light-water reactor. It was the first public acknowledgment that the North is running a uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The two radioactive materials are key ingredients in making atomic bombs.
Kim reportedly had a stroke 10 months ago and analysts believe there may be a plan in place to name the youngest of his three sons as the future leader.
"God only knows what he wants," Biden said of Kim. "There's all kinds of discussions. Whether this is about succession, wanting his son to succeed him. Whether or not he's looking for respect. Whether or not he really wants a nuclear capability to threaten the region. ... We can't guess his motives.
"We just have to deal with the reality that a North Korea that is either proliferating weapons and or missiles, or a North Korea that is using those weapons ... is a serious danger and threat to the world, and particularly East Asia," the vice president said.
Further adding to the tensions, North Korea last week handed down 12-year prison terms to two detained American journalists.
Asked about potential negotiations for their release, Biden said, "I don't think it's appropriate, nor in the interests of the journalists, for me to discuss that."