By Michael Abramowitz and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 7, 2006; A10
President Bush pressed the leaders of China and Russia yesterday to join the United States in sending a tough message to North Korea for this week's missile launches, and said the world needs to speak with "one voice" to force the communist nation to adhere to international rules.
But a U.S. drive for tough sanctions against North Korea encountered immediate obstacles. In his first comments about the controversy, Russian President Vladimir Putin said concern about the missile tests should not trigger an emotional response that would "drown out common sense."
North Korea also offered its first official statement since it sent seven missiles aloft on Tuesday. It threatened to "take stronger physical actions of other forms, should any other country dare take issue with the exercises" and vowed to continue the exercises at will.
Both statements highlighted a vexing diplomatic challenge for Bush so close to his annual summit with the leaders of the other industrialized powers. The Group of Eight meeting, to be held next week in Russia, was already promising to be consumed by proliferation issues. The nations will discuss a diplomatic initiative by the United States and European nations to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a key step toward developing nuclear weapons.
Now North Korea has muscled its way into a more prominent place on the U.S. agenda with its latest provocations, including an unsuccessful launch of its long-range Taepodong-2 missile. Japanese authorities maintained their military on high alert yesterday, and South Korean media reported that North Korea appears to have prepared three to five more short- and medium-range missiles for test-firing.
The Bush administration was trying to calm passions yesterday while working behind the scenes to enlist China and Russia's help for tough action at the United Nations against North Korea. Bush called Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao and told them, in his words, that "we want to solve this problem diplomatically." On Wednesday, he spoke with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Speaking at a news conference after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bush said the United States is supporting a Japanese resolution for new sanctions against North Korea but cautioned that it could take time to reach an agreement. "We're working with our partners to make sure we work with one voice," Bush said. "Diplomacy takes a while, particularly when you are dealing with a variety of partners."
Bush acknowledged uncertainty about North Korea's enigmatic leader, Kim Jong Il. "We do know there's a lot of concentration camps. We do know the people are starving," he said. "But what we don't know is his intentions. And so I think we've got to plan for the worst and hope for the best."
At the United Nations, the Security Council remained deadlocked as U.S., European and Japanese diplomats could not persuade China and Russia to support sanctions against Pyongyang for conducting its missile tests. The council agreed to resume negotiations this morning.
China and Russia are resisting U.S. pressure to take a tough approach to North Korea because of concern that it could fuel instability and jeopardize efforts to restart six-nation talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Neither country, however, has threatened to use its veto power to block U.N. sanctions.
The United States, Japan and their European allies support the passage of a legally binding resolution that would condemn North Korea and would bar all states from transferring to the Stalinist government money, material or technology that could be used to develop ballistic missiles or to pursue nuclear weapons.
China and Russia favor a less confrontational approach, proposing the passage of a mild, nonbinding Security Council statement urging North Korean restraint. Chinese and Russian officials argue that a 1998 crisis -- which was triggered by the unannounced launch of a North Korean satellite that U.S. officials mistook for a missile -- was resolved with a Security Council statement urging Pyongyang to notify key states when it planned a launch. The situation has also been complicated because of worsening relations between the United States and Russia, and Putin does not appear to be of a mind to be too accommodating to the Bush administration right now, foreign policy experts believe.
Senior U.S., Japanese, French and British diplomats met privately yesterday afternoon to decide whether to accommodate China and Russia or to call their bluff and schedule a vote on the resolution. Those talks were inconclusive, officials said.
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that 13 of the 15 council members were in favor of the resolution condemning North Korea and requiring that states impede its effort to support its ballistic missile program.
"The support remains really overwhelming to make a very strong statement of condemnation of the North Korean missile launches and, I think, to take strong, effective measures in response," Bolton said. "So, obviously, there is still a lot of negotiation to go. This is the United Nations."
Michael Green, who until recently served as the senior Asia expert on the National Security Council, said he believes China could be persuaded to sign on to a tough U.N. resolution, in part because North Korea ignored Chinese and U.S. warnings not to launch any missiles.
"It's important to look at the quiet diplomatic work the administration did as North Korea prepared to launch these missiles," Green said. "The administration is now well-positioned to go back to these countries and say, 'North Korea defied you, and we should have a common position.' "
But Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute said he doubts China would support the United States on tough sanctions in the absence of a more aggressive U.S. campaign to pressure Beijing. "I don't think they are too unhappy with the status quo," said Blumenthal, who formerly worked on Asia issues at the Pentagon. "The Chinese probably condemned North Korea the least. . . . I just don't see any evidence that the Chinese are in line with the United States and Japan on this issue."
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Correspondent Anthony Faiola in Tokyo contributed to this report.