Edith M. Lederer
September 07, 2016 - 6:00 AM
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned North Korea's latest ballistic missile launches and threatened "further significant measures" if it refuses to stop its nuclear and missile tests.
The U.N.'s most powerful body agreed to the statement hours after a closed-door emergency meeting called by the United States, Japan and South Korea in response to North Korea's firing of three missiles Monday that travelled about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) and landed near Japan.
The council gave no indication of what "further significant measures" it might take if North Korea continues conducting tests and trying to enhance its nuclear capabilities.
The U.S., Japan and South Korea made clear after the council meeting that they want further action, but also didn't specify what.
The press statement urged all U.N. member states "to redouble their efforts" to implement sanctions against Pyongyang, including the toughest measures in two decades imposed by the council in March. Those sanctions reflected growing anger at Pyongyang's nuclear test in January and a subsequent rocket launch.
The council expressed serious concern that North Korea carried out the latest launches "in flagrant disregard" of its demands.
North Korea has repeatedly flouted Security Council resolutions demanding an end to its nuclear and ballistic missile activities and has continued to launch missiles, escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the region.
It already has a variety of land-based missiles that can hit South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases in those countries. Last month, it successfully tested a submarine-launched missile and development of those missiles would add a weapon that is harder to detect before launch.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters after Tuesday's meeting that "the Security Council must remain unequivocal and united in condemnation of these tests and we must take action to enforce the words we put on paper — to enforce our resolutions."
President Barack Obama signalled at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Laos that the U.S. would redouble its effort to choke off North Korea's access to international currency and technology by tightening loopholes in the current sanctions regime.
North Korea launched the missiles while China was hosting the Group of 20 economic summit, Power said. This once again showed the North's "blatant disregard" for U.N. sanctions and its international obligations "and its willingness to provoke and to threaten the international community with impunity," she said.
Power said North Korea has carried out 22 missile launches so far this year, and the latest hit "within 300 kilometres of Japan's coast."
With each test, she said, the North demonstrates further advancement of its ballistic missile program whose aim according to the country's leader Kim Jong Un is "to arm the systems with nuclear weapons."
Japan's U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho said he was encouraged that in Tuesday's council meeting "there was much stronger show of unity" than in past discussions.
The tests not only threaten Japan's national security but the region and beyond, he said, stressing that the missiles were launched without any prior notification and could have hit planes or ships.
Bessho said Japan wants the council to consider further actions it can take "in unanimity, in unity, in bringing about change in North Korea's behaviour."
South Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador Hahn Choong Hee said the international community should be united in sending a "clear and unequivocal message to North Korea that if they continue to provoke and violate their international commitments and sanctions, they will face much stronger and insurmountable and significant counter-measures from the international community."
What action the council takes remains to be seen and a lot depends on China, the North's neighbour and only major ally, though ties have frayed over the nuclear and missile tests and what many outsiders see as other provocations in recent years.
China's U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi, apparently annoyed that the latest missiles were fired during the G20, told reporters as he left the meeting that the council would work on a press statement. But he didn't mention any further council action.
Power said "there were very strong and numerous voices in the room for doing more" than another condemnation.
"So without getting ahead of the council we were also interested in increasing the consequences after this pattern of using these launches to advance the capabilities of the program," she said.
North Korea is banned from importing or exporting nuclear or missile items and technology as well as luxury goods and the March resolution expanded the list of banned items. It requires countries to freeze the assets of companies linked to the North's nuclear and missile programs.
The March sanctions, among other things, also require mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering North Korea by land, sea or air; a ban on all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang; and expulsion of diplomats from the North who engage in "illicit activities."
News from © The Associated Press, 2016