LONDON — Foreign ministers from the G-8 nations on Thursday condemned North Korea's aggressive rhetoric and the development of its nuclear missile programs, saying that Pyongyang's recent actions threaten international security.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a press conference that if North Korea conducts another missile launch or nuclear test, the G-8 ministers have "committed ourselves" to take further "significant measures" – such as asking for more sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.
His remarks came just hours after North Korea delivered a fresh burst of rhetoric with claims it had "powerful striking means" on standby amid speculation that it is preparing to test a medium-range missile during an upcoming national celebration in the country.
In a communique following a meeting in London, the G-8 foreign ministers said Pyongyang's "current aggressive rhetoric" will only isolate North Korea. They urged North Korea to refrain from "further provocative acts" and engage in credible talks on abandoning all existing nuclear programs.
"G-8 foreign ministers condemned in the strongest possible terms the continued development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the communique stated.
North Korea's decisions to launch a long-range rocket in December and conduct an underground nuclear test in February "seriously undermine regional stability, jeopardize the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and threaten international peace and security," the communique said.
The statement added that ministers are concerned about Pyongyang's plans to re-open its Nyongbyon nuclear facility.
Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said North Korea's provocations are escalating a tense situation.
"This war rhetoric is not in any way acceptable and the G-8 has a united position on this," he said on the sidelines of the meeting.
The two-day talks among eight world powers focused on North Korea and the civil war in Syria. They also got some celebrity wattage from an appearance by Angelina Jolie, a U.N. special envoy for refugees who has teamed up with Hague to campaign for an end to sexual violence in war.
Hague – flanked by Jolie and the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura – announced that G-8 ministers pledged $36 million in additional funding to fight sexual violence in conflict.
Calling the issue "the slave trade of our generation," Hague said the ministers also agreed to declare that rape and serious sexual violence in conflict constitute war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
Jolie welcomed the "long overdue stand" on sexual violence, saying that the international political will to combat sexual violence has been "sorely lacking."
Sexual violence has been used as a weapon in several conflicts, including the civil war in Syria, the Bosnian war, and during fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Syria, where the U.N. estimates that a two-year civil war has killed more than 70,000 people, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Syrian opposition leaders in London on Wednesday to discuss ways to step up nonlethal aid to rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad.
But there was no mention of assisting the rebels in Thursday's G-8 statement, reflecting divided opinion among the nations – the U.S., U.K., France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia – on how to address the Syria conflict.
The watered-down language in particular could reflect the position of Russia, which has consistently opposed actions that would increase pressure on Assad.
The communique said ministers are "appalled" at the deaths in Syria and the fact that the war has forced more than a million people to flee to neighboring countries. The ministers "reaffirmed their commitment" to supporting a political transition in Syria and condemned the ongoing use of heavy weapons against residential areas.
"The humanitarian situation in Syria is deplorable and continues to worsen," the communique said, urging greater humanitarian assistance and improved access to the Syrian people.
Hague offered slightly stronger language than the communique in a press conference after the talks, saying the Assad regime has shown a "flagrant disregard" for human rights and life.
"The world has failed" Syria so far, and "it continues to do so," he told reporters.
Britain and France have been pushing for the European Union to lift or amend its arms embargo on Syria, which prohibits any weapons from being sent to the Arab state.
The embargo requires a unanimous agreement by EU countries, and it will either be renewed or allowed to expire at the end of May. Hague said earlier this week that no decisions have been made on whether the U.K. will allow it to expire.
An expiration would effectively clear the way for Britain – or any nation – to make its own decision about whether to arm rebels.
On Thursday, Hague reiterated that if the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, there will be a "strong case" for amending or lifting the arms embargo.
AP reporter Martin Benedyk contributed to this report from London.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd