By Colum Lynch and Maureen Fan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 10 -- China on Tuesday expressed a rare willingness to support U.N. sanctions against its ally North Korea, but it said any punitive action would have to be narrowly targeted at the country's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
The United States and Japan continued to press the U.N. Security Council to support far stronger economic and trade measures that would permit international inspections of all North Korean cargo to search for weapons and to strangle Pyongyang's ability to finance its nuclear program.
Varied responses to the nuclear test that North Korea apparently conducted early Monday emerged as the Bush administration sought to assuage fresh worries by its foreign counterparts that the tough strategy may cause hardship for the country's impoverished population or topple the government. France, for instance, voiced concern that a Japanese proposal to ban all North Korean exports could fuel a humanitarian crisis.
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, insisted that the U.S. sanctions plan calls for the exemption of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for civilians. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, meanwhile, specifically ruled out any attempt at regime change. "We have made it very clear that the United States has no intention to attack North Korea. That element of our policy still stands," he told reporters. "What we have sought is a change in the behavior of the North Korean regime."
China's tougher stance against North Korea came as officials in Beijing faced criticism at home over their diplomatic strategy, which relies primarily on the now-stalled six-nation talks to contain North Korea's nuclear program.
The talks have been "a total failure," said Zhang Liankui, a professor at the influential Central Party School's Institute for International Strategic Studies. "North Korea's reaction is a challenge to the whole world. Every country should have a clear and definite attitude, including China.
"If peaceful means can't stop North Korea from conducting a nuclear test, then there should be other means," Zhang added. "The appeasement policy was very popular in the international community, and I think that's very dangerous. Within 10 years, people will suffer from this attitude."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao acknowledged that North Korea's action "will undoubtedly exert negative impact" on the two countries' relations. But he said the six-party talks remain "the best and practical way and effective way to resolve this issue, so I don't think it's a failure of China's diplomacy."
Still, Wang Guangya, China's U.N. ambassador, conceded that the council would have to impose "some punitive actions" on Pyongyang to persuade it to heed international demands. He added, however, that "these actions have to be appropriate" and "more specifically targeted toward the nuclear- and missile-related areas."
U.S. officials welcomed China's willingness to consider punishing a traditional ally and a neighbor that it has shielded from international pressure for decades. White House spokesman Tony Snow said China's announcement suggested that North Korea's ability to use "bluff and bravado" to obtain concessions may have ended.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CNN that "I've never seen universal condemnation of the kind that North Korea is now facing, and condemnation, by the way, not just from the United States and Europe and Japan but from its closest supporters, those who are the ones who give them assistance."
The United States has told the North Koreans "that there is no intention to invade or attack them," Rice added. "So they have that guarantee." The president "never takes any of his options off the table," she said. "But the United States, somehow, in a provocative way, trying to invade North Korea? It's just not the case."
But other U.S. officials made it clear that they think tougher measures are required to ensure that North Korea will not ignore another unenforceable council dictate. They note that a U.N. measure that was passed in July, Resolution 1695, already bans international trade in ballistic missiles and nuclear technology with North Korea. But it lacks any enforcement provision.
The United States supports a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced by sanctions or military action.
The U.S. draft resolution calls for imposing stringent financial penalties on North Korea and providing broad powers to foreign governments to inspect all trucks, trains, vessels and planes traveling in and out of the country. The U.S. text would also confront North Korea with a 30-day deadline to reverse course or face further penalties.
Japan has introduced a series of amendments that would ban North Korean exports and prohibit the arrival of North Korean ships or planes in foreign countries.
China opposes any deadlines or trade restrictions that would undercut North Korea's struggling economy.
It also insists that any resolution must exclude the possibility, however remote, that force could be used against North Korea. China proposed that a sanctions resolution refer simply to a provision in Chapter 7, known as Article 41, that would authorize only the imposition of sanctions.
"We have not reached agreement -- do not misunderstand me," Bolton told reporters after meetings with China and other major council powers. "I know when you're making progress and I know when you're not making progress, and I'm still pleased with the directions things are going."
Fan and researcher Jin Ling reported from Beijing; staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.