Want North Korea breakthrough? China tells U.S. to show flexibility

3 minute read

Zhang Jun, China's Ambassador to the United Nations speaks at a Security Council meeting about Afghanistan at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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UNITED NATIONS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - The key to solving the issue of North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs is in the United States' hands, China's U.N. envoy said on Friday, urging Washington to show "more sincerity and flexibility" if it wants a breakthrough.

"They should come up with more attractive and more practical, more flexible approaches, policies and actions in accommodating concerns" of North Korea, Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters. "The key in solving this issue is already in the hands of the United States.

He spoke ahead of a closed U.N. Security Council meeting, which was requested by the United States to discuss North Korea's launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile last Sunday.

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After the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters: "We have to keep up the pressure."

She also read a joint statement by more than half the U.N. Security Council condemning North Korea's latest missile launch and warning that continued silence by the 15-member body would only embolden Pyongyang.

The eight council members - the United States, Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Britain - and Japan described Sunday's launch as a "significant escalation" that "seeks to further destabilize the region."

They said North Korea had carried out nine ballistic missiles launches in January, describing it as the largest number in a single month in the history of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

TESTS BANNED

Nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea are banned by the U.N. Security Council. Diplomats said the United States has proposed the council issue a statement.

"We call on all council members to speak with one voice in condemning these dangerous and unlawful acts," the eight council members and Japan said in the statement. "The cost of the council's ongoing silence is too high. It will embolden the DPRK to further defy the international community."

Zhang said the council should only issue a statement if it is "helpful for the de-escalation of the tensions." Such statements by the council have to be agreed by consensus.

North Korea confirmed on Monday it had launched a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile, the same weapon it had once threatened to target the U.S. territory of Guam with, sparking fears the nuclear-armed state could resume long-range testing.

It was the first time North Korea had tested a nuclear-capable missile of that size since 2017.

Pyongyang had put nuclear weapons tests and long-range ballistic missile launches on hold while leader Kim Jong Un met with then-U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018 and Vietnam in 2019.

Zhang cited those meetings and the suspension of tests, asking: "What has been done by the U.S.?"

Thomas-Greenfield said launches of other ballistic missiles had continued over the past few years and that U.S. President Joe Biden could not commit to a meeting with Kim until Washington had "a better sense of what there is to achieve."

Diplomacy with North Korea has stalled since the summits between Trump and Kim, which failed to produce a deal. Pyongyang wants U.S. and U.N. sanctions to be removed. There has been no easing of any U.S. or U.N. measures, but China and Russia have said the Security Council should consider such a move.

Thomas-Greenfield said there was no reason for the council to "reward" Pyongyang for its ballistic missile tests.

"We continue to urge (North Korea) to respond positively to the offers from the United States and others to meet without preconditions," the eight council members and Japan said.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool

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