US, Russia row at UN over North Korea missile launch

A picture from North Korea's state news agency showing the missile that was launched on July 4. The US and its supporters believe it was an intercontinental ballistic missile, while Russia asserts that it was just a medium-range one. China and Russia
A picture from North Korea's state news agency showing the missile that was launched on July 4. The US and its supporters believe it was an intercontinental ballistic missile, while Russia asserts that it was just a medium-range one. China and Russia only view a long-range missile test or nuclear weapon test as a trigger for further UN sanctions, say diplomats.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Disagreement over type of missile curbs US push for stronger sanctions on Pyongyang

NEW YORK • The US and Russia are waging rival campaigns at the UN Security Council over the type of ballistic missile fired by North Korea this month as Washington pushes to impose stronger sanctions on Pyongyang over the test.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley held an intelligence briefing for her council colleagues on Monday to argue that Pyongyang fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was attended by Russia and North Korean ally China, among others.

UN diplomats said Russia had suggested that Russian and US military experts exchange information on the launch.

The US briefing came after Russia sent a brief letter and diagram on July 8 to the 15-member Security Council, asserting that its radars had determined that the missile launched by Pyongyang on July 4 was a medium-range one.

However, a spokesman for the British mission said the missile launched by North Korea "was almost certainly an ICBM, capable of achieving a range in excess of 5,500km. We have high confidence in this assessment".

Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, who also attended the briefing, said Russia's envoy was not convinced by the US evidence and that the Chinese ambassador "did not say a word".

While Russia contends that the launch was not an ICBM, China is "slipping behind that as a way of not definitively saying that now is the right time for a resolution", said a Security Council diplomat.

Russia's contention hinders the US' push for the council to set stronger sanctions on Pyongyang.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain and France are veto-wielding council members. Diplomats say China and Russia only view a long-range missile test or nuclear weapon test as a trigger for further possible UN sanctions.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un has described the missile launch as an ICBM test, which completes his country's strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs, the state Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 and the council had ratcheted up the measures in response to five nuclear weapons tests and two long-range missile launches.

The US gave China a draft resolution two weeks ago to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea over the July 4 missile launch.

Ms Haley had been aiming for a vote within weeks, but a UN diplomat, who requested anonymity, described the US negotiations with China as "slow-going".

Traditionally, the US and China have negotiated sanctions on North Korea before formally involving other council members.

Asked whether there was progress in negotiations, China's Ambassador Liu Jieyi said "not yet", adding that he did not expect agreement on a draft resolution any time soon. "It's a complicated issue," he said.

Diplomats said Washington informally keeps Britain and France in the loop, while China was likely talking to Russia.

Ms Haley said on July 5 that some options to strengthen UN sanctions were to restrict the flow of oil to North Korea's military and weapons programmes, increase air and maritime curbs as well as impose sanctions on senior officials.

Following a nuclear weapons test by North Korea last September, while US President Barack Obama was still in office, it took the council three months to agree to strengthen sanctions.

Shortly after North Korea's July 4 missile launch, Russia objected to a Security Council condemnation because a US-drafted press statement labelled it an ICBM.

Diplomats said negotiations on the statement have stalled.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'US, Russia row at UN over N. Korean missile launch'. Print Edition | Subscribe