North Korea: US ups pressure over 'catastrophic' risks
United Nations (United States) (AFP) – The United States sounded a global call to confront the North Korean nuclear threat Friday, exhorting Beijing to use its “unique” leverage to rein in Pyongyang and avert “catastrophic consequences.”
Addressing the UN Security Council after Donald Trump warned of the risk of a “major conflict,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for a campaign of pressure to force Pyongyang to change course and put a halt to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” Tillerson told the Council.
“The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland,” he said.
Tillerson told the Council there was “no reason” to think North Korea would change course under the current multilateral sanctions regime, warning: “The time has come for all of us to put new pressure on North Korea to abandon its dangerous path.”
“I urge this council to act before North Korea does,” he said.
Washington has repeatedly called for tougher UN sanctions, but wants China to take the diplomatic lead by using its leverage over Pyongyang — which Beijing has been reluctant to do for fear of destabilizing North Korea.
At the council meeting, China pushed back, saying it was not realistic to expect one country to be responsible for solving the conflict.
“China is not a focal point of the problem on the peninsula and the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
– ‘All options on table’ –
North Korea is seeking to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five atomic tests, two of them last year.
The Security Council meeting follows weeks of warnings from the US administration that it is running out of patience.
“All options for responding to future provocation must remain on the table,” Tillerson said.
“Diplomatic and financial levers of power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary.”
Russia and China made clear that a military response to the threat from Pyongyang would be disastrous and appealed for a return to talks and de-escalation.
China’s Wang warned “the use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters.”
North Korea “is conducting itself in an inappropriate way,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the council.
“At the same time, options of using force are completely unacceptable and could lead to catastrophic consequences.”
Tillerson called on all countries to downgrade diplomatic relations with North Korea and impose targeted sanctions on entities and individuals supporting its missile and nuclear program.
The US chief diplomat placed the onus squarely on China — which accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade — saying it “has economic leverage over Pyongyang that is unique” and suggesting sanctions from Beijing would have a strong impact.
China and Russia argued that sanctions alone were not the answer.
– Call for talks –
The Chinese foreign minister pushed Beijing’s proposal for reviving talks based on a freeze of North Korea’s military programs.
He said the long-standing proposal, which involves Pyongyang freezing military programs in exchange for a halt to US-South Korean annual military drills, was “reasonable and practical.”
“Now is the time to seriously consider talks,” said Wang.
The United States has rejected the Chinese proposal and insists that North Korea first take steps to show that it is ready to abandon its military programs.
At the end of the meeting, Tillerson again took the floor and bluntly re-asserted Washington’s stance.
“We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table. We will not reward their bad behavior with talks,” he said.
The United States, Russia and China took part in six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization from 2003 to 2009, along with Japan, South Korea and Pyongyang.
The Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions on North Korea — two adopted last year — to significantly ramp up pressure and deny Kim Jong-Un’s regime the hard currency revenue needed for his military programs.
The meeting of the top UN body comes just days after South Korea received the first deliveries of equipment for a new missile defense system from the United States that China fiercely opposes.