UN Condemns N. Korea Launch, Pledges New Sanctions

UN Condemns N. Korea Launch,  Pledges New SanctionsUN Condemns N. Korea Launch,  Pledges New Sanctions

The UN Security Council condemned North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket and pledged to quickly adopt a new resolution with “significant” new sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went ahead with the launch just two hours after an eight-day window opened early Sunday and a month after the country’s fourth nuclear test.

He ignored an appeal from China, its neighbor and important ally, not to proceed, and, in another slap to Beijing, chose the eve of the Chinese New Year, the country’s most important holiday, AP reported.

In a reflection of heightened hostilities between the rival Koreas, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said a South Korean naval vessel fired five shots into the water as a warning on Monday when a North Korean patrol boat briefly moved south of the countries’ disputed boundary line in the Yellow Sea.

Since its Jan. 6 nuclear test, which the North claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb, despite outside skepticism, China and the United States have been negotiating the text of a new Security Council sanctions resolution.

North Korean rocket launches and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward Pyongyang’s ultimate goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could hit the US mainland.

At the UN, the US, backed by its allies, Japan and South Korea, wants tough sanctions reflecting Kim’s defiance of the Security Council. But diplomats say China, the North’s key protector in the council, is reluctant to impose economic measures that could cause North Korea’s economy to collapse and trigger a flight of North Koreans into China across their shared border.

The 15-member Security Council strongly condemned the launch and pledged to “expeditiously” adopt a new resolution with “further significant measures”—UN code for sanctions. The word “robust” referring to the measures was in an initial draft, but was dropped in the final statement.

US Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters that “it cannot be business as usual” after two successive North Korean acts that are “hostile and illegal”.

“What’s important is that the Security Council unites,” Power said. “China is a critical player ... We are hopeful that China, like all council members, will see the grave threat to regional and international peace and security, see the importance of adopting tough, unprecedented measures, breaking new ground here, exceeding the expectations of Kim Jong Un.”

However, China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, made clear that unprecedented sanctions are not Beijing’s priority.

He said a new resolution should “do the work of reducing tension, of working toward denuclearization (of the Korean peninsula), of maintaining peace and stability, and of encouraging a negotiated solution.”

“I believe the council needs to work together for a new resolution,” Liu added, indicating that China may want negotiations with the United States to be widened.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, whose country is also a North Korean ally, said, “It has to be a weighty resolution, but it also has to be a reasonable resolution” that does not lead to North Korea’s economic or humanitarian collapse, or further heighten tensions.

Russia’s goal is to see six-party talks aimed at denuclearization resume, he said, but in the current atmosphere that’s unlikely because the North Koreans “have been very unreasonable” and are challenging the entire international community.

North Korea, which calls its launches part of a peaceful space program, said it had successfully put a new Earth observation satellite, the Kwangmyongsong 4, or Shining Star 4, into orbit less than 10 minutes after liftoff and vowed more such launches. A US official said it might take days to assess whether the launch was a success.

Japan’s UN ambassador, Motohide Yoshikawa, told reporters the missile, which went over Japan and landed near the Philippines, was “a clear threat to the lives of many people”.

The Security Council underscored that launches using ballistic missile technology, “even if characterized as a satellite launch or space launch vehicle” contribute to North Korea’s development of systems to deliver nuclear weapons and violate four Security Council resolutions dating back to the North’s first nuclear test in 2006.