North Korea's Arsenal

July 6, 2006

Russia and China Resist Korea Penalty

President Bush called the leaders of Russia and China today to seek a unified response to North Korea’s test-firing of missiles, but both countries continued to dismiss the possibility of imposing the sanctions the United States wants.

North Korea also threatened to launch still more missiles while warning of “stronger physical actions” if sanctions are imposed on it.

In Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin today called for steps that would allow for “reaching a compromise” with North Korea, Reuters reported.

During an Internet question-and-answer session that was broadcast on Russian state television, Mr. Putin said he was “disappointed” that North Korea had conducted the test-firings involving seven missiles launched on Wednesday. But he also said that Pyongyang was “right” when it said it had the legal right to do so.

The Chinese government again dismissed the idea of sanctions today, saying that China and North Korea remained “friendly neighbors,” and it called for diplomacy as the best way to alleviate the tensions.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, voiced “serious concerns” about the North Korean missile tests. But when asked if China would cut back on aid to its neighbor because of the tests, Ms. Jiang said, “At present we are not taking this aspect into consideration.”

The United Nations Security Council prepared to meet for a second day today to discuss the missile issue, with China and Russia opposing a resolution drafted by Japan and backed by the United States that called for sanctions against North Korea.

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, said before the meeting today that countries that have “leverage” with North Korea “bear the responsibility to use that.”

But the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, today played down the idea of a rift over how to respond.

He also warned against expecting a rapid agreement on how to proceed. “This is not like a sitcom, it doesn’t wrap up in 30 minutes and come to a neat, happy conclusion,” he told reporters, according to The Associated Press. R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said today that he expected that China would feel the need to take strong action to rebuke its ally in Pyongyang.

“What’s meaningful here is what governments say privately, as well as in public,” Mr. Burns told CNN. “The Chinese have given us every indication that they will stand with us.”

Mr. Burns also suggested that it might be possible to find ways to punish Pyongyang without a Security Council vote. “Countries have to take individual action as well as collective action,” Mr. Burns said.

China did announce today that it would send its chief negotiator with North Korea, Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, to Pyongyang for talks July 10-15. Mr. Wu is scheduled to meet on Friday in Beijing with an American assistant secretary of state, Christopher Hill, who represented the United States at the stalled six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs.

“Practice tells us dialogue and consultation are effective ways to solve problems,” Ms. Yu said, reconfirming China’s long-standing policy.

North Korea issued a statement today saying that Washington’s rejection of direct talks and financial pressure made it more determined to increase its missile capabilities, and insisting that it had a legal right to test missiles. The statement also responded to American claims that the test of the largest missile, the Taepodong 2, was a failure because the flight lasted only 42 second.

“Our successful missile tests were part of a regular military exercise conducted by our military to boost our self-defense,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told the North’s official news agency, KCNA.

“Our military will continue with missile launch drills in the future as part of efforts to strengthen self-defense deterrent,” the spokesman said. “If anyone intends to dispute or add pressure about this, we will have to take stronger physical actions in other forms.”

He did not elaborate. But Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York, also told the Japanese broadcaster TBS that the North would take “all-out countermeasures if sanctions are exercised.”

The Communist regime is given to making dramatic statements to increase its leverage in negotiations. But it also has a history of provocative actions, like the missile tests on Wednesday.

Analysts said North Korea may try to launch another Taepodong 2 intercontinental missile, which is theoretically capable of hitting Alaska. “There is a possibility that North Korea will fire additional missiles, based on our intelligence and assessments of the traffic of equipment and personnel in and out of launch sites,” Defense Minister Yoon Kwang Ung of South Korea told a parliamentary hearing.

Experts say it takes days, if not weeks, to transport, mount and fuel a Taepodong 2 for a test launching. Officials both in Seoul and in Tokyo reported no immediate signs of another Taepodong test. But they said North Korea may fire more short- and medium-range missiles.

Major South Korean newspapers reported today that North Korea has three or four more intermediate-range missiles on launch pads. The mass-circulation daily Chosun Ilbo said the North had barred fishermen from sailing into some areas off the coast until July 11, a possible sign that it may fire more missiles.

Even if the Taepodong 2 launch was a failure, the successful tests of other models will strengthen the market value of North Korean missiles among its clients in the Middle East, experts and officials have said.

Both Japan and South Korea fall well within range of North Korean missiles. But their reactions varied widely.

Tokyo responded swiftly by barring North Korean officials from entering Japan, and banned one of its trading vessels from Japanese ports for six months.

South Korea only indicated that it would take some sanctions, such as a reduction in food aid. But like China, it stressed that diplomacy, not pressure, was the best way to solve the crisis.

The South Korean unification minister, Lee Jong Seok, told the National Assembly today that cabinet-level meetings between the two Koreas, scheduled for next week, should go ahead, and that Seoul would press ahead with inter-Korean economic joint ventures.

John O’Neil reported from New York for this article, and Choe Sang-Hungfrom Seoul.