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North Korea nuclear crisis

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is ‘begging for war’, US tells UN emergency meeting, while slamming China’s ‘insulting’ nuke proposal

China suggests the US and South Korea halt military exercises in exchange for Pyongyang freezing nuclear and missile schemes - but American envoy instead demands ‘strongest possible measures’ against North Korea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 10:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 8:06am

The United States on Monday urged the UN Security Council to impose the “strongest possible measures” against North Korea in response to its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

The test on Sunday showed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “begging for war”, US Ambassador Nikki Haley told an emergency council meeting, and “only the strongest sanctions will enable us to resolve this problem through diplomacy”.

Haley said North Korea “slapped everybody in the face” with its latest test and rejected as “insulting” a Chinese proposal for a freeze on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korean annual military drills.

“When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that. We certainly won’t,” she said.

But China, while condemning the nuclear test, called for talks to address the crisis.

“The situation on the peninsula is deteriorating constantly as we speak, falling into a vicious circle,” said Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi. “The peninsula issue must be resolved peacefully. China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”

China’s proposal, that Seoul and Washington cease their war games in return for Pyongyang freezing its illicit weapon programmes, was aimed at easing tension as early as possible, Liu said. “We hope the parties concerned will seriously consider it and actively respond to it,” he added.

Pyongyang views the war games as a rehearsal for invasion. The North recently requested a Security Council meeting about the exercises.

But at the end of the meeting, Haley said the United States would instead circulate a draft resolution this week pushing further sanctions against North Korea.

On Sunday, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test since 2006 and its first in almost a year. Pyongyang claimed the tested weapon was a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that could be fitted to a ballistic missile. Details could not immediately be verified, but South Korean officials estimated the blast, felt in parts of South Korea and China, had a strength of up to 100 kilotons – several times more powerful than the US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Haley said Pyongyang’s nuclear programme is now “more advanced and more dangerous than ever” and that the incremental sanctions approach has not worked.

She declared that “enough is enough” and the “time for half measures is over”, suggesting the council must significantly ratchet up the pressure in any new resolution.

“The time has come to exhaust all of our diplomatic means before it’s too late,” she said. “The United States will be circulating a resolution that we want to negotiate this week and vote on Monday,” Haley said. She did not spell out what measures Washington would support, but diplomats have indicated that an oil embargo would have a crippling effect on the North Korean economy.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, echoing Liu’s comments, said military solutions cannot settle Korean Peninsula issues and there was an “urgent need to maintain cool heads” and “refrain from action that can escalate tensions”.

At the same time, a Kremlin spokesman said it was easy for countries outside the regions to talk of war, but those in the region need to be more restrained. Russian President Vladimir Putin was said to be holding talks on the phone with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

US President Donald Trump also spoke to Moon over the phone.

Trump agreed “in principle” to scrap a warhead weight limit on South Korea’s missiles, the White House said.

Trump also gave “conceptual approval” for South Korea to buy billions of dollars of weapons from the United States.

The US President also called German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who agreed that stronger sanctions were needed against Pyongyang, according to the White House

South Korea’s defence ministry meanwhile warned on Monday that Pyongyang may be preparing another missile launch after two tests in July of long-range missiles that apparently brought the US mainland into range.

Sunday’s bomb test was the first since Trump took office in January and is a direct challenge to a US administration still struggling to come up with steps to rein in North Korea, although it has said all options, including military action, are on the table.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said France was calling for the adoption of new UN sanctions, swift implementation of existing ones and new separate sanctions by the European Union.

British Prime Minister Theresa May called in a statement on Sunday for speeding the implementation of existing sanctions and “looking urgently” at new measures in the council.

The US also suggested some other ideas earlier this summer, including air and maritime restrictions and restricting oil to North Korea’s military and weapons programmes.

However, Nebenzia told the council last Tuesday that “addressing the issues plaguing the [Korean] Peninsula through sanction pressure alone is impossible” because “that path does not propose any options for engaging [North Korea] in constructive negotiations”.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Kyodo, Reuters and Xinhua