US calls for tougher UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea

People in Seoul watching a news programme about North Korea's launch of an ICBM, on March 25, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United States called on Friday (March 25) for tougher international sanctions against North Korea at the UN Security Council, accusing Pyongyang of "increasingly dangerous provocations" after it test-fired its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile.

"The United States calls on all member states to fully implement the existing Security Council resolutions," US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during the meeting convened to discuss North Korea.

"Because of DPRK's increasingly dangerous provocations, the United States will be introducing a... Security Council resolution to update and strengthen the sanctions regime" that was adopted in December 2017, she said, using the official acronym for North Korea.

At the time "the council decided we would take further action in the event of a DPRK ICBM launch," Thomas-Greenfield said.

"This is precisely what happened. So now is the time to take that action."

The unanimously adopted text was voted on a month after Pyongyang fired its last previous intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15, which was deemed powerful enough to reach the United States mainland.

Following Friday's meeting, a group of 15 nations including permanent Security Council members Britain, France and the US - but minus China and Russia - released a joint statement condemning Pyongyang's latest launch "in the strongest terms" and warning it "poses a threat" to the entire international community.

"The DPRK is demonstrating its determination to continue advancing its weapons program as it escalates its provocative behaviour - and yet the Council has remained silent," said the countries, which include non-permanent Security Council members Brazil, Ireland and Norway, as well as Germany, Japan and South Korea.

The statement urged UN states, especially Security Council members, "to join us in condemning this behaviour and in urging the DPRK to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes and engage in diplomacy toward denuclearisation."

China addressed the Security Council meeting and urged "prudence and reason" regarding North Korea.

"All is not quiet on the international front. No parties should take any action that would lead to greater tensions," China's UN ambassador Zhang Jun said.

Russia, for its part, warned against following Washington's lead on tightening sanctions.

Deputy Russian envoy to the UN Anna Evstigneeva said Moscow believes that doing so would "go beyond the framework of cutting off financing" for the DPRK missile and nuclear programmes and would "threaten North Korean citizens with unacceptable socio-economic and humanitarian problems."

In 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un formalised a moratorium on nuclear testing and long-range ballistic missile launches, stating that his goals had been met and proclaiming his country a fully nuclear state.

He nonetheless personally supervised Thursday's launch, which state media outlet KCNA reported was meant to ensure the country is ready for "long-standing confrontation" with the United States.

The Group of Seven nations and the EU on Friday condemned what they said was North Korea's "blatant violation" of its obligations under Security Council resolutions.

A top US official said on Friday that North Korea likely has "more in store" after its latest test.

"We see this as part of a pattern of testing and provocation from North Korea... we think there is likely more in store," White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters travelling on board Air Force One with President Joe Biden.

The test is also a clear sign North Korea has made "important qualitative progress" on its banned weapons programmes, said US-based analyst Ankit Panda. "What's important about this ICBM is not how far it can go, but what it can potentially carry, which is multiple warheads," something North Korea has long coveted, he told AFP. "The North Koreans are on the cusp of significantly increasing the threat to the United States beyond the ICBM capability demonstrated in 2017." Multiple warheads would help a North Korean missile evade US missile defence systems.

"This test also appears to 'compensate' for last week's failed projectile launch - handsomely so," Soo Kim, RAND Corporation Policy Analyst and former CIA analyst, told AFP. "The regime appears quite pleased with the outcome of the test," she added.

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