UN fails to find united response to missile launch

The UN Security Council failed to agree to a firm response to North Korea's long-range rocket launch amid signs of disagreement as to whether the test amounted to a violation of UN resolutions.


AFP - The UN Security Council struggled Sunday to agree a firm response to North Korea's long-range rocket launch amid signs of disagreement as to whether the test amounted to a violation of UN resolutions.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters ahead of the closed-door meeting that it offered an opportunity to secure agreement on "strong collective action," responding to what Washington, Japan and the European Union dubbed a "provocative act."

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rice, backed by her British and French colleagues, pressed for a "strong condemnation" of the North Korean action.

But Russia, China, Libya, Uganda and Vietnam called for restraint in the council's reaction so as not to endanger the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, the diplomat added.

The six-party talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Several ambassadors agreed to continue negotiations for an "appropriate response" in the form of a resolution, which was unlikely to emerge for several days, another diplomat said.

Council members were meanwhile trying to find common ground on "elements of a statement" that could be read to the press in Sunday by Mexico's UN Ambassador Claude Heller, chair of the 15-member council this month.

These would include an expression of concern over the launch, a call on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and to respect UN resolutions, a diplomat said.

"France strongly condemns the launch," its ambassador to the UN Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters.

"We expect the Council to unanimously condemn what has happened and respond to this provocation and violation of humanitarian law."

The meeting was called at the request of the US and Japanese governments and came after North Korea launched what is believed a three-stage Taepodong-2 missile, with an estimated range of 4,100 miles (6,700 kilometers), in violation of Security Council resolution 1718 adopted in 2006 -- after the North's missile launches on July 5 and nuclear test on October 9 that year.

That resolution demanded that Pyongyang refrain from any further nuclear test or another ballistic missile launch.

"Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something," US President Barack Obama said during a speech in Prague about ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

He called the rocket launch a "provocation" that required a strong international response by the Security Council.

But, Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, urged restraint.

"Relevant parties must ... avoid taking actions that could make the situation even more tense," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website.

Russia also urged restraint while a report said Moscow was studying whether Pyongyang had broken any UN Security Council resolutions.

Diplomats here say Beijing and Moscow are likely to block any bid by the United States and its Western allies to push for new sanctions on North Korea over the latest rocket launch.

But a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the council might take up a resolution or a non-binding statement that would reaffirm existing sanctions.

For several tense minutes, the North Korean rocket flew through the airspace of Japan, which had given its military the authority to shoot down any threat to its soil -- something Pyongyang had warned would be seen as an act of war.

But Japan said the booster rockets fell harmlessly into the water, while the United States and Seoul said the launch had failed to get its payload, a satellite, into orbit.

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