North Korea threatens "strong steps" if U.N. acts

UNITED NATIONS Tue Apr 7, 2009 5:42pm EDT

1 of 26. A Taepodong-2 rocket is seen being launched from the North Korean rocket launch facility in Musudan Ri on April 5, 2009 in this frame grab taken from footage released by KRT on April 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/KRT via Reuters TV

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - North Korea warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that it would take "strong steps" if the 15-nation body took any action in response to Pyongyang's launch of a long-range rocket.

"If the Security Council, they take any kind of steps whatever, we'll consider this is (an) encroachment on our sovereignty and the next option will be ours," Deputy Ambassador Pak Tok Hun told reporters. "Necessary and strong steps will ... follow that."

Washington, Tokyo and Seoul say North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile on Sunday in violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning the firing of such missiles by Pyongyang. The resolution was passed after a nuclear test by North Korea.

In a rare appearance before reporters at U.N. headquarters, Pak said criticism of the launch was undemocratic and any country was entitled to use outer space peacefully.

"It's not fair. It's not fair," he said. "While they themselves launch more than a hundred times the satellites ... we are not allowed to do that. That is not democratic.

The Security Council held a 3-hour emergency meeting on Sunday but took no action apart from agreeing to return to the issue. Russia and China, with the support of three other council members, made clear that they opposed U.S. and Japanese demands for a resolution punishing North Korea.

The five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- plus Japan met at U.N. headquarters on Monday to explore a possible compromise, but Japan and the three Western powers failed to persuade Russia and China that strong condemnation was needed.

Diplomats from the six powers had planned to meet again on Tuesday. But that meeting was postponed because several delegations "are not ready," one diplomat said. It was not clear when the meeting would go ahead.

Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Konstantin Dolgov said he hoped the six could agree on a response that could be put to the full council for unanimous approval.

"So far we are not yet there," he added.

One diplomat close to the talks on Monday described the situation as a "stalemate." Another diplomat said on Tuesday the talks were still deadlocked.

CHINA'S "WATERED DOWN" PROPOSAL

As permanent council members, China and Russia have veto powers and have made clear they would be prepared to use them to stop new sanctions on Pyongyang. The United States and Japan would like a resolution that expands existing financial sanctions against North Korea.

But U.N. diplomats say the United States and Japan might have to accept a non-binding warning statement from the council instead of a legally binding resolution.

A Western diplomat said China had proposed a weak statement, "a completely watered down text which is unacceptable to us (and) ... not even worth discussing."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the council "must avoid any hasty conclusions" on North Korea, which says the rocket placed a satellite into orbit.

Both Moscow and Beijing call for restarting the six-party nuclear talks between the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, which have been stalled since December.

The United States, Japan and South Korea insist that the rocket launch was a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1718, which the council adopted unanimously after North Korea's nuclear test in October 2006.

China and Russia are not convinced it was a breach.

"We believe the U.N. Security Council should act carefully concerning resolution 1718," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing.

"There are similarities but also differences between rocket and missile technology," she said. "Launching a satellite is different in nature from firing a missile or a nuclear test. This issue also involves the right of all countries to peaceful use of outer space."

Pak also said it was not a violation of 1718 but a satellite launched with a "peaceful purpose."

Beijing, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, has said any U.N. reaction must be "cautious and proportionate."

NORTH KOREA SHOWS ROCKET FOOTAGE

Analysts said the launch of the rocket, which soared over Japan during its 3,200 km (2,000 mile) flight, was effectively a test of a ballistic missile potentially capable of carrying a warhead as far as the U.S. state of Alaska.

The U.S. military said no part of the Taepodong-2 rocket entered orbit, despite Pyongyang's claim that a satellite is now transmitting data and revolutionary music.

North Korean state television broke into regular broadcasting on Tuesday to show footage of the rocket taking off from the Musudan-ri missile base in the northeast.

Tokyo said that to ignore a blatant violation of U.N. rules would harm the reputation of the Security Council.

"If the violation is left as it is, the credibility and the authority of the Security Council will be undermined," Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said.

Analysts said the launch showed the impoverished North had increased the range of its missiles even though it may be years away from building a missile to threaten the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's defiance also grabbed global attention for his destitute state and may have bettered his hand by using the negotiating strategy of using military threats to squeeze concessions from regional powers. (Additional reporting Jon Herskovitz in Seoul, Conor Sweeney in Moscow, Isabel Reynolds, Chisa Fujioka and Yoko Kubota in Tokyo; Writing by Louis Charbonneau, Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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