U.N. Security Council condemns N. Korea rocket launch

April 16, 2012

The U.N. Security Council on Monday issued a sharply worded statement that “strongly condemns” North Korea’s failed rocket launch last week, and it announced plans to tighten existing sanctions against Pyongyang’s government.

The council’s statement, which was adopted with the approval of all 15 Security Council members, stopped short of imposing new sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s action, which the council said constituted a “serious violation” of two U.N. resolutions banning missile launches.

But it demanded that North Korea, formally called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), observe a moratorium on future missile launches and warned that the council would take additional unspecified action if Pyongyang conducted another ballistic missile test or conducted a nuclear weapons test. The last North Korean nuclear test was in 2009, but there have been reports of a possible new one soon.

“The Security Council demands that the DPRK not proceed with any further launches using ballistic missile technology” and suspend “all activities related to its ballistic missile program,” said the statement, read out by Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who is acting as this month’s Security Council president. “The Security Council underscores that this satellite launch, as well as any launch that uses ballistic missile technology, even if characterized as a satellite launch or space launch vehicle, is a serious violation of Security Council resolutions.”

This marked the second time the council has weighed in on the crisis since Friday’s attempted launch. The rocket failed shortly after liftoff.

Less than 24 hours after the attempted launch, the council issued a mild initial statement — known in Security Council parlance as “elements” — deploring the missile launch and pledging to consider further action. The latest “presidential statement” — which carries more weight than elements but less than a resolution — was largely developed in a series of closed-door meetings between Rice and China’s U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong.

Monday’s action pledges the council’s commitment to instruct a sanctions committee to “adjust” previous penalties by expanding the list of individuals and firms that are subject to a travel ban and asset freeze.

David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the council’s actions constitute “incremental” steps to pressure the North Korean government. But he said they are important because China, which has long provided political cover for Pyongyang, has decided to ramp up pressure on its neighbor.

“This is more than I expected. It shows there is some desire to seriously start to pressure North Korea within the confines established by China,” said Albright, who in December visited Pyongyang, where he discussed the North Korean nuclear program with senior officials.

But he added that the force of the expanded sanctions will depend largely on China’s willingness to tighten the screws. “Will China now put pressure on North Korea, and suddenly start searching everything that goes into North Korea by train or by truck? Will it start cracking down on North Korea illicit procurement for its missile and nuclear programs?”

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