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A Softer Option to Sway N. Korea

In the face of a U.S.-led call for tougher U.N. steps against Pyongyang for its nuclear program, China and Russia offer a less aggressive path.

July 13, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — China and Russia introduced a compromise Security Council resolution Wednesday, urging North Korea to suspend its nuclear program but steering clear of the mandatory sanctions sought by Japan and the United States.

Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima said the move was a step in the right direction, but "there are very serious gaps on very important issues."

Although Japanese and American diplomats said China and Russia had moved a long way toward their countries' position, the rival resolution highlights divisions among the council's permanent members about how best to contain North Korea without driving it into further isolation and defiance.

In response to North Korea's missile tests last week, Japan, the U.S. and six other cosponsors are seeking to ban outside help for Pyongyang's missile program and are demanding it resume a moratorium on missile launches. It also designates North Korea's actions a threat to international peace and security, and invokes Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which could open the door to sanctions or even military action.

The resolution introduced by China and Russia asks U.N. members to voluntarily "exercise vigilance" rather than legally banning the supply of missile related technology and materials. And while it "strongly deplores" the missile launches, it urges -- rather than demands -- North Korea to revive the moratorium.

Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said he didn't consider North Korea's missile launches an international threat, and though the tests defied North Korea's own moratorium, they did not violate any international treaties.

Japan and the United States agreed Monday to delay a vote on their resolution to give senior Chinese officials visiting Pyongyang a chance to strike a diplomatic deal. Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said Wednesday that the delegation had conveyed a message of restraint to Pyongyang's leadership but there was no response yet to report.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill suggested Wednesday that Pyongyang had rebuffed the Chinese delegation's efforts to get an agreement to stop missile tests and rejoin the six-party disarmament talks that North Korea abandoned last September.

"China's really trying. We're trying. Everyone is trying except, unfortunately, the DPRK," Hill told reporters after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. North Korea's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The resolution from China and Russia suggests that they too have little faith in Pyongyang coming back to the table.

Wang, the Chinese ambassador, said for the first time publicly that he would block any resolution with the Chapter VII authority because he feared it could be used as a springboard for military action. China is North Korea's close neighbor and grudging defender, and fears it will bear the burden if North Korea collapses.

Wang said that his draft achieved the essence of what the Japan-U.S. resolution aimed for without making it legally binding or paving the way for "negative action" that could unsettle an already tense region. "If that draft is put to a vote, without any modifications, the instructions to me is to veto it," he said. "It's very clear."

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said Washington and its supporters would give China's diplomacy a little time, but that their patience was not infinite.

"There are times when you just need to make people raise their hands and show where they stand," he said.

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