China, Russia delay U.S. bid to sanction North Koreans at U.N.

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The sun shines behind the United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City, New York, U.S., June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - China and Russia delayed a U.S. bid to impose U.N. sanctions on five North Koreans on Thursday, diplomats said, as Pyongyang suggested it may resume tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The move by China and Russia came ahead of a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea later on Thursday -- the second in two weeks -- after Pyongyang fired tactical guided missiles on Monday.

"These launches demonstrate the regime's determination to pursue weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs at all costs, including at the expense of its own people," seven council members - the United States, Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, Britain - and Japan said in a joint statement at the United Nations.

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The test on Monday was North Korea's fourth in 2022, with two previous launches involving "hypersonic missiles" capable of high speed and maneuvering after liftoff, and another test using a pair of short-range missiles fired from train cars.

The United States last week imposed unilateral sanctions over the missile launches. It blacklisted six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian firm, accusing them of procuring goods for the programs from Russia and China.

It then proposed five of those individuals also be subjected to a U.N. travel ban and asset freeze. The request had to be agreed by consensus by the Security Council's 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.

China and Russia, however, placed a "hold" on the U.S. proposal on Thursday, which puts it in limbo. China told council colleagues it needed more time to study the sanctions proposal, while Russia said more evidence was needed to back the U.S. request, diplomats said.

'BLANK CHECK'

North Korea said earlier on Thursday that it would bolster its defenses against the United States and consider resuming "all temporally-suspended activities," an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

"Facts have proven time and again that blindly resorting to sanction and pressure would only escalate the tension further rather than settle the Peninsula issue. This meets no party's interests," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said when asked about Pyongyang's announcement.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions, which the Security Council has strengthened over the years in an effort to target funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"It is extremely important that Member States take the necessary steps to implement the sanctions in their jurisdictions, or risk providing a blank check for the DPRK regime to advance its weapons program," the statement from the group including the United States said, using an acronym for North Korea.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has sought unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles since Biden took office in January 2021.

North Korea continued developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in the first half of 2021 in violation of U.N. sanctions and despite the country's worsening economic situation, U.N. sanctions monitors reported in August.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

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