Kerry said nations must agree on a "swift, clear, strong and credible response" to Pyongyang's third nuclear test and the authoritarian regime's "continued flaunting of its obligations."
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In defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, the latest issued last month, North Korea on Tuesday detonated a nuclear device at a remote underground site. It is seen as a key step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States.
Iran, like North Korea, is also under stiff sanctions and negotiations with the West over its nuclear program have similarly stalled.
Iran maintains the program is peaceful, for generating energy and for medical research, not for weapons. It said Wednesday that it has begun installing a new generation of centrifuges that will allow it to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment in defiance of UN calls to halt such activities.
There has been speculation that North Korea and Iran could be cooperating on missile and nuclear development. Kerry did not draw such a connection, but did say the cases were linked because they both concerned nonproliferation.
"It's important for the world to have credibility with respect to our nonproliferation efforts," Kerry told reporters after meeting Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh at the State Department.
"Just as it's impermissible for North Korea to pursue this kind of reckless effort, so we have said it's impermissible with respect to Iran. What our response is with respect to this will have an impact on all other nonproliferation efforts."
The UN Security Council has issued three separate resolutions on North Korea, in response to its nuclear and missile tests since 2006. The latest resolution, which tightened sanctions, followed a December satellite launch that the US says could serve to develop the North's ballistic missile capability.
The resolution warned of "significant action" if Pyongyang conducted another rocket launch or a nuclear test.
"If you are going to say things, they have to mean something. And to mean something you have to be prepared to follow up, and that's exactly what we are prepared to do," Kerry said.
In an emergency session Tuesday, the Security Council unanimously said the nuclear test poses "a clear threat to international peace and security" and pledged further action. It remains to be seen, however, whether China, the North's ally, will sign on to any new, binding global sanctions.
Elior Levy contributed to this report
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