Russia and U.S. Clash Over Response to N. Korean Missile Launch

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2017 | 4:25 AM EDT

The U.N. Security Council meets in New York to discuss the North Korean ICBM launch. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of President Trump’s scheduled first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two governments are sparring over how to respond to North Korea’s latest provocation – unable even to agree on the nature of the missile launched by the regime on July 4, let alone what to do about it.

Russia’s mission to the United Nations bristled Thursday after Reuters reported that it was blocking a draft U.N. Security Council press statement criticizing the launch. It was not “blocking” any initiative, the mission said in a statement, but simply disagrees that the projectile fired on Tuesday was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The Russian mission complained in particular about the fact the Reuters report quoted from an internal email it had sent to other missions on the Security Council.

“Once again we witness the unscrupulous steps of some members of the Security Council, which commit deliberate leaks, undermining the culture of interaction established in the U.N. Security Council over the years,” it said.

Reuters subsequently changed its report, replacing the word “blocks” with “objects to.”

The Russian mission said the defense ministry in Moscow has determined that based on parametric flight data the missile launched on July 4 was evidently a medium-range ballistic missile.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley earlier rejected that reading.

“Not only has the [U.N.] secretary-general said this was an ICBM, and the U.S. has said this is an ICBM, North Korea has said this was an ICBM,” she told her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Safronkov, during the earlier session.

“So if you need any sort of intelligence to let you know that the rest of the world sees this as ICBM, I’m happy to provide it.”

(Citing the distance, time and altitude of the missile flight, the U.N.’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs Miroslav Jenca told the council that “the missile would have a range of roughly 6,700 kilometers if launched on a more typical trajectory, making it an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), according to widely-used definitions.”)

‘Creative diplomacy’

The spat over the wording of a basic condemnatory press statement foreshadows a larger battle to come over a U.S.-led resolution aiming to respond proportionately to the escalated threat.

Potential options flagged by Haley on Wednesday included tightening air and maritime restrictions, and targeting hard currency sources and the flow of oil to military and weapons programs.

But she also warned countries doing business with North Korea that they may have to choose between continuing to do so and trading with the United States.

Two of the countries to whom those remarks apply are Russia and China, and they quickly signaled in New York that they object to new sanctions against the Kim Jong-un regime.

Instead, the two are proposing “creative diplomacy” – an initiative that would see Pyongyang agree to voluntary “moratorium” on missile and nuclear activities in return for an end to “large-scale” U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

In parallel to that so-called “double-freeze” proposal, Moscow and Beijing want talks to resume aimed at denuclearization of the peninsula and the creation of “peace mechanisms.”

“Sanctions cannot be a cure-all panacea,” Safronkov told the council.

Neither a military solution nor attempts to “strangle” North Korea economically were acceptable, he said, adding that North Korean security concerns must be taken into account.

Haley’s response to the objections to new sanctions was scathing.

“This council all knows we have done repeated resolutions, and nothing has happened,” she said in remarks directed at the two permanent Security Council members.

“If you are happy with North Korea’s actions, veto it. If you want to be a friend to North Korea, veto it,” she said. “But if you see this as a threat, if you see this for what it is, which is North Korea showing its muscle, then you need to stand strong and vote with the international community to strengthen sanctions on North Korea.”

Haley warned Russia and China that the U.S. would “go our own path” if they chose not to cooperate.

“But it makes no sense to not join together on this threat against North Korea,” she continued. “They have not had any care for Russia or China in this. They have not listened to anything that you’ve said; they’re not going to listen to anything that you say.”

“To sit there and oppose sanctions,” Haley concluded, “or to sit there and go in defiance of a new resolution means you’re holding the hands of Kim Jong un.”

Tried and failed

The main elements of the Russia-China “creative diplomacy” proposal are not new:

In 1999, North Korea agreed to a moratorium on medium- and long-range missile launches, after alarming the region the previous year by firing a missile clear over Japan before it landed in the Pacific Ocean.

That moratorium lasted until 2006, when Kim Jong-il, the current’s leader’s father, launched half a dozen projectiles – also, like this week’s launch, doing so on July 4.

In February 2012, two months after Kim Jong-un succeeded his late father, the regime again pledged a moratorium on both “long-range missile launches” and nuclear tests, under the so-called “Leap Day Deal” brokered by the Obama administration.

That undertaking, which also included an agreement to suspend uranium enrichment and admit U.N. weapons inspectors in exchange for U.S. food aid, lasted six weeks, until Kim violated it with a launch that April.

The pledged moratorium on nuclear tests lasted a year, until the regime in February 2013 carried out what was then its third such test. It conducted fourth and fifth tests last year.

As far as de-nuclearization talks go, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and North Korea held multiple rounds of so-called “six-party talks” between 2003 and 2008, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to end a standoff that dates back to the Clinton administration.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow