“The Security Council deplored this launch,” said U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, who is presiding over the 15-nation council’s rotating presidency this month. “Members of the Security Council agree to continue consultations on an appropriate response.”
The North is already one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world, and any attempt to impose further sanctions through the Security Council would likely have been blocked by China, North Korea’s staunchest ally.
White House officials, meanwhile, said they won’t pursue new sanctions but will seek to tighten the enforcement of existing U.N. sanctions. They also said they had suspended a deal to deliver food aid to North Korea in return for a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
“Their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrate that they could not be trusted to keep their commitments, therefore we’re not going forward with an agreement to provide them with any assistance,” National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes told reporters accompanying President Obama on a flight to Florida aboard Air Force One.
The administration’s negotiation with North Korea was part of an engagement strategy that Obama has advocated since his inauguration. But any prospect of further engagement will probably be put on hold, at least until after the election.
As a political issue, North Korea has gained traction in recent weeks as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and some Korea experts have criticized the Obama administration’s Feb. 29 deal with Pyongyang, which unraveled in two weeks.
“They reached out and everyone saw how that agreement was broken,” said Evans Revere, a former State Department official who specializes in Asia. “The administration can’t be seen as rushing back to the table.”
Instead, U.S. officials have extensively discussed in private the possibility of increasing military exercises and consultations with allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea. Such exercises, however, have typically incensed North Korea and could provoke the country to launch exercises of its own.
China, the North’s main economic benefactor and a conduit through which the North receives much of its food and its luxury goods, will be the key in any scenario to the international response. As the United States pushes for tighter enforcement of existing sanctions, for example, it will need cooperation from Beijing.