UN powers agree to condemn N. Korea 'launch'

5 permanent UNSC members, Japan draft "presidential statement" calling for more sanctions.

security council 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
security council 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Key Security Council nations reached agreement Saturday on a statement that would condemn North Korea's rocket launch and toughen UN sanctions against the reclusive communist nation. The five permanent veto-wielding members - the US, China, Russia, Britain and France - and Japan met and reached the agreement after Tokyo backed down from a demand that the Security Council adopt a resolution, which is the strongest response that the UN's most powerful body can give. Later they distributed the text of the proposed presidential statement to the nine other council members who must now consult their capitals. Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said he expects the council to meet again on Monday to take action. A presidential statement is considered a weaker reaction by the council and while the United States insists it is legally binding, others do not. Nonetheless, the current draft contains stronger language and demands than many observers predicted. China and Russia, the North Koreans' strongest allies, refused to go along with a new resolution, which the United States was also seeking. But while Japan kept insisting on a resolution, the US indicated it would also accept a strong presidential statement from the council, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were held behind closed doors. The draft statement "condemns" North Korea's April 5 "launch" - without specifying whether it was a missile or a satellite. It makes clear that it was "in contravention" of a Security Council resolution adopted after the North conducted a nuclear test in 2006 which bans any missile tests by the country. The statement calls for expanding sanctions under the 2006 resolution, which ordered a financial freeze on assets belonging to companies or organizations engaged in supporting North Korean programs related to nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction - and banned specific goods used in those programs. The proposed draft asks the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea to report to the council by April 24 on the companies, items, and technologies to be added to the list. If the committee fails to act, it says the Security Council itself will then come up with a list by April 30. The draft statement demands that North Korea not conduct any further "launch." And it reiterates that Pyongyang must fully implement the 2006 resolution, which also ordered Pyongyang to suspend all ballistic missile activities and "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner." North Korea carried out the launch in defiance of intense international pressure, claiming it had launched a satellite which is allowed under a U.N. space treaty. The United States, Japan and South Korea claim North Korea was really testing long-range missile technology, which Pyongyang is banned from doing. "This is a strong and legally binding outcome of the Security Council which meets all of the objectives that we have," US Ambassador Susan Rice said after the full council meeting. "We are pleased that the process which has produced this document thus far has been a constructive and collaborative one, and we look very much forward to swift action by the council." "What the council can do and we hope will do through the adoption of this statement, is send a very clear message to North Korea that what they have done under the guise of a satellite launch is in fact a violation of their obligations, and indeed that there are consequences for such actions," she said. Libya's Dabbashi called the draft "a good compromise" and "a very strong" presidential statement, but he said "we have some difficulties" - primarily whether North Korea launched a missile or engaged in "space technology." North Korea has warned that any move to censure it at the UN could prompt its withdrawal from six-part talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program which involve China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US. In the draft statement, the Security Council expresses support for the six-party talks and "calls for their early resumption." It also expressed the council's desire "for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation" and stresses "the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in northeast Asia as a whole." Asked what expectations the US had that North Korea would abide by the proposed statement and stop future launches, Rice said the six countries that reached agreement "believe that this text strikes the appropriate balance between strong statement, clear condemnation and consequences, and the expectation that all will benefit from the continuation of the six-party talks." Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers called the proposed draft "a formal and binding position of the council." When a reporter noted that cargo shipments to and from North Korea were never inspected for banned items, as called for in the 2006 resolution, Sawers replied that all UN member states are responsible for implementing council resolutions. "I believe that the designations and the threat of inspections have had an effect on the export of proscribed goods from North Korea," he said. Former US ambassador John Bolton, who served during the Bush administration, insisted that presidential statements are not legally binding, noting that US State Department lawyers only consider resolutions adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which is militarily enforceable legally binding. "A resolution is an action. a presidential statement is an opinion," he told AP. "If they were both legally binding, could a presidential statement create a UN peacekeeping force?"