US calls for 'next level' sanctions on N. Korea

The United States on Tuesday called on the UN Security Council to hit North Korean diplomats and "illicit" cash transfers with sanctions to step up pressure over the isolated state's nuclear program.

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said China had agreed on "next level" sanctions against the North and that she hopes for a vote by the 15-member council this week.

The text of a draft resolution was handed to other council members at a closed meeting on Tuesday.

The proposed measures would "take the UN sanctions imposed on North Korea to the next level, breaking new ground and imposing significant new legal obligations," Rice told reporters after the short meeting.

"For the first time ever, this resolution targets the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships, illicit transfers of bulk cash and new travel restrictions."

She said that if passed, the measures "will significantly impede North Korea's ability to develop further its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

North Korea has already threatened to heighten tensions over the proposed UN measures. Rice said the resolution vows "further significant measures in the event of another launch or nuclear test."

The United States and China have been negotiating the measures since the North staged its third nuclear test on February 12.

The Security Council imposed strong sanctions after the North's weapons tests in 2006 and 2009. These were expanded after the North launched a long-range rocket in December in breach of UN resolutions.