A top US Navy commander on Wednesday pushed for a “sense of urgency” over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, as the UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss tightening sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korea on Sunday launched what appeared to be its longest-range ballistic missile yet, claiming it was capable of carrying a “heavy nuclear warhead” in a test aimed at bringing the US mainland within reach.
Admiral Harry Harris, who heads the Pacific Command, spoke during a visit to Japan after the latest test raised further alarm over the pace of its weapons development.
Pyongyang carried out two atomic tests last year, and has accelerated its missile launch program, despite tough UN sanctions aimed at denying leader Kim Jong-Un the hard currency needed to fund his weapons ambitions.
“In every test he (Kim) makes, it’s a success because it takes North Korea one step closer to be able to deliver a nuclear-tipped missile anywhere in the world,” Harris said.
“I must assume Kim Jong-Un’s claims are the truth, because I know his aspirations certainly are… That should provide all of us with a sense of urgency to address this problem now,” he added.
The United States said the missile landed close to Russian territory, but Moscow later said it fell in the ocean about 500 kilometers away and posed no threat.
Harris, however, stressed that China and Russia, the North’s traditional backers, can no longer look the other way.
“The dangerous behavior by North Korea is not just a threat to the Korean peninsula… it’s a threat to China, it’s a threat to Russia,” Harris told a an academic forum in Tokyo.
His comments came a day after the Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss tightening sanctions on the isolated state.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington was working with China on a new sanctions resolution and warned that all countries must step up action against North Korea or face measures themselves.
“We all have to send a sign to North Korea, and that is ‘No more. This is not play time. This is serious. These threats are not welcome’,” Haley told reporters ahead of the meeting.
“If you are a country that is supplying or supporting North Korea, we will call you out on it,” Haley said.
“We will make sure that everyone knows who you are and we will target those sanctions towards you as well.”
Despite the push for a tougher stance, Haley held out the prospect of direct talks with North Korea, saying “we are willing to talk but not until we see a total stop of the nuclear process and of any test there”.
The US, Japan and South Korea called the emergency meeting to press international demands that North Korea change course and dismantle its missile and nuclear programs.
No draft resolution was circulated to the full council, but Haley said the United States was working with China on a text.
“That’s what we are working on now. We don’t have it done yet,” Haley said.
“Absolutely, sanctions (are) something that we are looking at and we are going to continue to see where that takes us.”
During the closed-door meeting however, China made no mention of a new sanctions resolution and renewed its appeal for talks to de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula, according to diplomats.
Addressing reporters after the meeting, the council president, Uruguay’s Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, said that “clearly sanctions are a way to go” but stressed support for diplomacy to engage with Pyongyang.