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2009/04/09 10:53 KST

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

U.N. Council Members Split on Sanctioning N.K. Over Rocket Launch

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket has sparked a debate in the international community over how to punish the isolated state, with South Korea, the United States and Japan harshly criticizing the North and pushing for sanctions under existing U.N. Security Council resolutions. But Russia and China, Pyongyang's traditional allies, remained uncertain and have called for restraint. Beijing, in particular, has cautioned the international community against overreacting.

   Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have said the launch was in violation of the 2006 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which bans the North from engaging in a ballistic missile program. Analysts said even if the launch was a test of a delivery system for a nuclear warhead, it would be difficult for the U.N. Security Council to actually punish the North if the payload really was a satellite.

   U.S. President Barack Obama denounced North Korea's rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. resolution, threatening a "strong response" from the Security Council. In his initial statement, Obama described the North's rocket as a Taepodong-2 missile, though he later called it "a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles," and made it clear that the launch would be subject to sanctions.

   North Korea has threatened to scrap the six-party talks if the rocket launch issue is brought to the Security Council, and hinted at conducting a second nuclear test.

   Experts said it may be difficult to pass a new resolution under the present situation. To do so, it must be approved by a majority of the total membership, with no dissenting vote from any of the five permanent members. The permanent members are the U.S., Britain, Russia, France and China.

   But on April 5 in New York, the U.N. council failed to reach any agreement after a three-hour closed-door session. The U.N. meeting was held at the request of Japan less than 24 hours after the North's launch.

   Ambassador Park In-kook of South Korea attended the council meeting, although South Korea is not a council member. Park said his government wanted "a rapid and enormous response from the security council."

   Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, one of the 10 non-permanent council members, said the rocket launch "is clearly a sign of tensions and a threat to international peace and security."

   China and Russia have expressed sympathy for North Korea's claim that it has the right to develop a peaceful space program. Chinese ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters that the security council's response should be "cautious and proportionate," repeating Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's remarks made earlier in Beijing that all parties concerned should "avoid taking actions that could make the situation even more tense." Russia's foreign ministry also called on "all involved states to show restraint."

   Meanwhile, the Japanese government announced it will extend existing sanctions on North Korea for a year. Japan, the most critical of the North's launch of the rocket, which passed through Japanese airspace, warned it would shoot down any debris falling into its territory.

   The rocket's first booster landed in the East Sea between Korea and Japan, and U.S. intelligence suggests both the second- and third-stage boosters fell into the Pacific Ocean, failing to put the satellite into orbit and contradicting Pyongyang's claims. Nothing fell over Japan.

   It took several days for the Security Council to adopt Resolution 1718 against North Korea after the detonation of its first nuclear device in 2006. The resolution bans any ballistic or nuclear activity by North Korea and prohibits member states from trading in weapons, weapons parts or luxury goods with the reclusive socialist state.

   In a related move, South Korea is considering becoming a full-time member of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led program that aims to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. But the government remains cautious for fear of further provoking the North, which has already warned full membership would lead to war. In a statement, Seoul also condemned Pyongyang for spending an enormous sum of money on a rocket launch while many of its population of 24 million still depend on international handouts to survive.

   Despite the stern response to Pyongyang's recent "bad behavior," officials and experts predict that nuclear negotiations with the North will inevitably restart following a short "cooling-off" period. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in early April at the London G-20 summit he was considering the possibility of sending a special envoy to the North to help ease strained ties. Experts explain what appears to be Lee's two-track stance as the result of the complex situation in which Seoul must ward off Pyongyang's military threats while at the same time engaging the "blood relative."

   On April 7, the U.S. reiterated that it wants a strong response to North Korea's rocket launch from the U.N. Security Council despite foot-dragging by China and Russia. "And we, again, are going to be working toward, as I said yesterday, a strong and effective response from the Security Council," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a daily news briefing.

   Wood's remarks came as the third day of the Security Council meeting was canceled at the U.N. headquarters in New York due to a widening gap in the positions of the U.S. and its allies and China and Russia over whether to further sanction North Korea. "A Security Council meeting will not convene today, as the countries involved need further consultations internally," said South Korea's U.N. ambassador, Park In-kook.

   U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also called for patience. "Let's wait and see the results of the ongoing negotiations at the United Nations," she said in a press conference with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully. Clinton was referring to the discussions underway since April 5 at the Security Council for possible sanctions against North Korea.

   North Korea's deputy chief of its mission to the U.S., Pak Tok-hun, said April 4 that his country would take strong and necessary steps against any U.N. response to the North's rocket launch. Pak said that any kind of Security Council's steps against North Korea would be regarded as a grave infringement of the country's sovereign rights, claiming that the North fired a communications satellite, and that it was not a violation of the Security Council resolution.

   Jack Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute, said in a forum in Washington on April 7 that China and "most likely the Russians don't agree that the space launch vehicle, satellite, is the same thing as the ballistic missile ... What occurred this past Sunday by North Korea was not a violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718," he said. "That's the argument. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that technically and legally, they may be right."

   Sanctions under the resolution -- including an embargo of trade involving weapons and their parts and luxury goods -- have largely been neglected, as China greatly watered down the resolution to make its implementation voluntary.

   Some experts say the U.S. may eventually seek stronger implementation of the existing sanctions rather than adopt a new resolution in order not to jeopardize six-party talks, which have been deadlocked since December over how to verify North Korea's past and current nuclear activity.

   "At some appropriate time after this launch, the U.S. will reengage North Korea bilaterally," Pritchard said. "It will be pure and simple bilateral discussions outside of the context of the six-party talks."

   U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) announced April 6 in a statement that "when the Senate reconvenes he will introduce legislation to re-impose U.S. sanctions that were lifted during the six-party talks, including designating North Korea a terrorist state" in retaliation against the North's rocket launch in what he called a violation of the U.N. resolution.

   The George W. Bush administration delisted the North in October last year to persuade the reclusive communist state to return to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs.