Focus on North Korea nuclear talks after launch: Russia

UNITED NATIONS/SEOUL (Reuters) - Russia called on other leading powers on Monday to stay focused on nuclear talks with North Korea as Washington pushed for a strong response from a divided U.N. Security Council to Pyongyang’s rocket launch.

Analysts said Sunday’s launch of the rocket, which soared over Japan during its 2,000-mile flight, effectively was a test of a ballistic missile designed to carry a warhead as far as the U.S. state of Alaska.

The U.S. military and South Korea said no part of the Taepodong-2 rocket entered orbit, despite Pyongyang’s claim it carried a satellite now transmitting data and revolutionary music as it circled the Earth.

Analysts said an emboldened North Korea would use the first successful launch of the Taepodong-2 to extract concessions for showing up at future six-party talks on ending its nuclear program. It also could seek to water down obligations it signed onto under previous negotiations.

The five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- plus Japan met at U.N. headquarters to explore a possible compromise on a response to the launch. They reached no agreement and scheduled another meeting for Tuesday, envoys said.

“We have no convergence of view at this stage,” said Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu.

“It’s a stalemate,” said another diplomat close to the negotiations. “It’s basically a fight over the form -- whether to warn or whether to punish.”

The Security Council had held an emergency session on Sunday but the 15 members agreed only to further discussions.

“The core element in this situation is the six-party talks,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.

Related Coverage

“The key thing is to make sure that we do not confine ourselves to an emotional knee-jerk reaction because what we do need is a common strategy and not losing sight of the goal -- and this is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

The long-running talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have been stalled since December.

As regional powers weighed the extent of the new security threat, South Korean and Japanese financial markets shrugged off the rocket launch by the reclusive communist state.


Diplomats said China and Russia probably would accept a Security Council warning to Pyongyang urging it to comply with U.N. resolutions and return to the six-party talks but they opposed a binding resolution intended to punish North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the council had to be the starting point. “We know that working out the language is not easily done overnight,” she said, “but we remain convinced that coming out with a strong position in the United Nations is the first and important step that we intend to take.”

“North Korea has to know that any efforts to obtain the objectives it set forth as desiring in the six-party talks are put at jeopardy,” Clinton told reporters.

Washington would like a resolution that would expand existing financial restrictions on Pyongyang. But diplomats said it might have to settle for a nonbinding statement.

Slideshow ( 24 images )

Russia and China have made clear they would veto any attempt at new sanctions. Beijing, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, has said any reaction must be “cautious and proportionate.” Three other countries on the council support the Russian and Chinese view, diplomats said.

The United States, Japan and South Korea say the launch violated Security Council resolutions banning the firing of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang, imposed after a nuclear test and other missile exercises in 2006.

The U.S. military could need days to analyze the launch but a top official said it had failed to demonstrate the technology for a successful intercontinental ballistic missile flight.

“The technology they were seeking ... was the ability to stage, in other words, transition from one stage of boost to the next. They failed,” Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press briefing.

Slideshow ( 24 images )

Jane’s Defense Weekly also described the launch as a failure but said the mission could provide valuable data for Pyongyang’s satellite and ballistic missile programs.

“With this capability, North Korea is equipped with the infrastructure to play the nuclear game and raise the stakes in the six-way talks,” said Kim Tae-woo, a nuclear and weapons expert at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis.

“As a result, more will have to be given to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program.”


Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s biggest daily, quoted government sources as saying the rocket flew 2,000 miles, which would put the U.S. territory of Guam nearly in reach. The newspaper said the distance was double the range of an earlier version, the Taepodong-1, fired over Japan in 1998.

In the only previous test flight of the Taepodong-2, in July 2006, the rocket blew apart 40 seconds after launch. The rocket is designed to fly an estimated 4,200 miles.

In Japan, the launch has sparked calls to consider a pre-emptive strike capability but such a plan could undermine regional stability and attract only lukewarm voter support.

South Koreans, accustomed to unpredictable behavior by their far poorer neighbor, were largely unfazed. But in a poll in the Yomiuri newspaper, 88 percent of Japanese said they were uneasy about North Korea’s missile development.

Analysts said the launch would bolster the authority of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il after a suspected stroke in August raised doubts about his grip on power in a country that has a “military first” doctrine.

For Washington, a successful satellite launch would have put half the continental United States in North Korean rocket range, arms control experts said.

North Korea is believed to have enough fissile material for several nuclear bombs. But many experts believe it lacks the technology to miniaturize a nuclear device for a warhead.

Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Kim Yeon-hee in Seoul, Isabel Reynolds and Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo and Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Writing by Dean Yates and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by