U.N. council discusses North Korea missile launch

UNITED NATIONS Mon Jul 6, 2009 5:37pm EDT

1 of 7. Photographers take pictures of North Korea's Kaepoong county at a South Korean observation post near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 45 km (28 miles) north of Seoul, July 5, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council met on Monday on North Korea's latest rocket launches with Western nations pushing for a statement condemning Saturday's salvo of seven ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang's missile firings into the Sea of Japan defied Security Council resolutions that prohibit such launches.

Monday's council meeting was requested by Japan, which currently sits on the council, diplomats said. It was not clear what view China, which holds a veto in the council and is the closest Pyongyang has to an ally there, would take.

The launches on the U.S. July 4 Independence Day holiday were seen as an act of defiance toward the United States, which has cracked down on firms suspected of helping the North in its arms and missiles trade.

North Korea appears to have fired two mid-range Rodong missiles, which can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, and five shorter-range Scud missiles, which can strike most of South Korea, South Korean officials told reporters.

Last month, the Security Council passed a resolution expanding previous U.N. sanctions against North Korea in response to a May 25 nuclear test by Pyongyang.

A U.N. sanctions committee is considering blacklisting more North Korean companies and individuals for supporting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. It is meant to complete its work by Friday.

A North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying banned arms was meanwhile expected to return home on Monday after a voyage that was tracked by the U.S. Navy and tested the U.N. sanctions, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said.

The return of the Kang Nam, which set sail in mid-June, could ease tensions raised by the missile launches. South Korean dailies said it was headed for the North's port of Nampo after a journey that took it close to Myanmar.

BANK ACCOUNTS

A U.S. envoy coordinating the enforcement of U.N. sanctions on the North held talks in Malaysia with officials. South Korean dailies said they discussed possibly shutting down bank accounts used by the North for suspected illicit deals.

"The Obama administration has uncovered suspicious North Korean bank accounts in Malaysia," the Joongang Ilbo newspaper quoted a diplomatic source in Washington as saying.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said: "We are not going to act on every accusation that is being leveled at us ... but if they have evidence we will be most willing to work together to solve this problem."

A U.S. Treasury official who tracks illicit international financing will have talks in China this week on ways to crack down on companies involved in North Korea's purchases of equipment for its nuclear arms program.

Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, will hold meetings from Wednesday to Friday with officials and private sector executives in mainland China and Hong Kong, Treasury said on Monday.

The U.N. sanctions are aimed at halting Pyongyang's arms trade, a vital source of foreign currency for the cash-short state. They also call on states to clamp down on the North's suspected arms shipments.

Analysts said the missile test may be related to the U.N. sanctions because the North wants to show its customers, who face greater risks in purchasing missiles, that its products are reliable and accurate.

"This could ... have been a test to measure their force," Dongguk University professor Koh Yu-hwan said. "They want to test their performance on how much they have developed in the past months."

Defense Ministry spokesman Won said the North had "greatly improved" the accuracy of its missiles. Those launched on Saturday flew up to 420 km (260 miles).

The Scud and Rodong are ballistic missiles. Their launch would mark an escalation by the North, which has fired several non-ballistic, short-range missiles since its nuclear test.

North Korea is barred by U.N. resolutions from firing ballistic missiles. It has more than 600 Scud type missiles and 300 Rodong missiles which have been deployed and target U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, defense officials have said.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Christine Kim in Seoul and Razak Ahmad in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by David Storey)