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World unity crumbles in face of North Korea threat

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-09-2017 AFP

Washington: International solidarity in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat crumbled Tuesday as Russia rebuffed US calls for new UN sanctions and Washington promised its allies advanced weaponry.

Last month, Pyongyang’s latest missile test drew unanimous condemnation from the UN Security Council—but Sunday’s apparent hydrogen bomb detonation revealed an underlying diplomatic rift.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin declared Washington’s demand for a vote on new UN sanctions to be “useless”, while US President Donald Trump promised Japan and South Korea new advanced arms.

And, while China may be concerned about a threat to the military balance in the region, the North Korean regime itself remained undaunted, vowing to send Washington “more gift packages”.

The disagreements appeared to be splitting the world into familiar opposing diplomatic camps, with China and Russia resisting pressure for more action from London, Tokyo and Washington.

Japanese officials, meanwhile, warned that Sunday’s test may have been more successful than initially feared and involved a bomb eight times more powerful than that which destroyed Hiroshima.

Washington’s tough-talking ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is expected to unveil yet another new UN sanctions package targeting Kim Jong-Un’s regime this week.

She had demanded a vote as early as Monday—while Washington is in parallel considering slapping secondary sanctions on Russian and Chinese firms and finance houses that have dealings with the North.

The UN route appears likely to be a dead end. China generally resists pressure on its unruly neighbour, and Putin—locked in his own showdown with Washington—appeared in no mood for compromise.

“Resorting to just any sanctions in this situation is useless and inefficient,” he told reporters in the Chinese city of Xiamen after a summit of the five-nation BRICS club of emerging economies.

“All of this can lead to a global planetary catastrophe and a great number of victims,” he said, implying that Washington’s stance is as much to blame for the tension as Kim’s nuclear brinksmanship.

Trump’s administration has said it cannot accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed power with missiles capable of reaching US cities—but recent tests have shown the limits of its options.

Aside from secondary sanctions, and amid questions about whether a pre-emptive US attack could be effective, Trump has decided to flex US muscle by arming China’s regional rivals Japan and South Korea.

“I am allowing Japan and South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” the president said, in a tweet.

Trump did not elaborate on what he had in mind, but the White House has said the president may approve the sale of “many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment” to Seoul.

Seoul was restricted to a maximum warhead weight of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) on its ballistic missiles under to a 2001 agreement with the United States, but this limit has now been lifted.

Heightened allied military preparations will alarm Beijing and Moscow, where foreign minister Sergei Lavrov “urged against giving in to emotions” in a call to his US counterpart Rex Tillerson.

Russia backs a Chinese proposal for peace talks based on a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korean military drills.

But Haley has rejected this option as “insulting.”

“When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that. We certainly won’t,” the US ambassador said.

US ally Britain backed the US call for stronger sanctions.

And UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against “confrontational rhetoric,” urging world powers to come up with a single strategy to address the crisis.

But one power was certainly not toning down its language.

“The recent self-defense measures by my country the DPRK are a gift package addressed to none other than the US,” North Korean envoy Han Tae Song told the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

“The US will receive more gift packages from my country as long as it relies on reckless provocations and futile attempts to put pressure on the DPRK.”

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