U.N. Security Council Fails to Agree on N. Korea Statement

By Colum Lynch and Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 5, 2009; 8:16 PM

UNITED NATIONS, April 5 -- The U.N. Security Council meeting in an emergency session failed Sunday to reach agreement on a statement criticizing North Korea's rocket launch, as China and Russia said they were not convinced that Pyongyang had violated any U.N. rules by trying to send a satellite into orbit.

The 15-nation council agreed to continue negotiations on a formal resolution addressing Pyongyang's action. But China and Russia's tough stance dealt a setback to efforts the United States, Japan and their allies to push for penalties against North Korea. "Every state has the right to the peaceful use of outer space," said Russia's deputy U.N. envoy Igor N. Shcherbak.

The satellite launch poses a critical test of President Obama's leadership on a major foreign policy crisis, and of his ability to persuade China and Russia to impose greater pressure on North Korea. Hours before the council met, Obama had insisted that North Korea face consequences for flagrantly violating the 2006 U.N. Resolution 1718, which bans North Korean ballistic missile tests.

"Rules must be binding, violations must be punished. Words must mean something," Obama said. "The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons."

After three hours of closed door talks, the council president issued a mild, non-binding statement noting that it had met to address "serious situation" in the Korean Peninsula and to "listen to the concerns arising from the launch." The council, he added, will continue talks on "the appropriate reaction."

China's U.N. envoy, Zhang Yesui, blocked agreement on language simply expressing concern over the launch.

The council's mute response stood in contrast to the condemnations from Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and other Western capitals. Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that most of the council members made strong statements of concern over Pyongyang's action and "it is our view this action merits a clear and strong response."

But U.N.-based envoys were already downplaying expectations that Pyongyang will face tough new sanctions. Council diplomats conceded that they may have to settle for enforcing punitive measures that the council agreed to place on North Korea two years ago -- including a travel ban and an asset freeze on individuals linked to its ballistic missile program -- but never imposed.

China and Russia, meanwhile, called for restraint in statements that appear directed as much at the United States and Japan as North Korea. The Security Council's reaction "has to be cautious and proportionate," China's U.N. ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters.

Although the launch generated anger from Japan and South Korea, actual policy changes were limited. Japan said it would extend previous economic sanctions against the North for a year, rather than the usual six-month extension.

South Korea said the launch would have no substantial effect on its economic programs inside North Korea. But Seoul said it would seriously consider joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led effort to intercept ships from countries like North Korea that might be carrying nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. The North has threatened to interpret any move by the South to join the group as a "declaration of war."

In Washington, congressional Democrats, including Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republicans denounced the launch as a violation of two Security Council resolutions.

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