UN crisis talks over North Korean missiles

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Indy Politics

Japan, Britain and the United States were leading efforts in the United Nations Security Council last night to deliver a firm response to North Korea's test-firing of seven ballistic missiles, in violation of a 1999 moratorium, amid warnings that more launches could follow.

Ambassadors were called to an emergency session of the Security Council after North Korea made the firings in the face of aggressive warnings from Western governments. Among the missiles launched was a long-range Taipodong-2, believed to have the potential to reach Alaska. The last time North Korea launched ballistic missiles was in 1998, an event that provoked deep regional tensions.

A draft UN resolution calls on Pyongyang to "immediately cease the development, testing, deployment and proliferation of ballistic missiles" and reaffirms the 1999 moratorium. It calls on UN members to end all supplies to North Korea of goods and technology that could aid its missile programme.

The first six missiles were launched on Tuesday. In the face of instant condemnation, a defiant Pyongyang launched a seventh missile yesterday morning.

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said in Washington, that the world had already delivered a "very strong response" and she urged Pyongyang to return to six-party talks on ending its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

At the UN, the ambassador of Japan, Kenzo Oshima, said the crisis was "far more serious" than in 1998, given North Korea's admission since then that it has successfully developed a nuclear weapons capability.

It may take a few days, however, for the Security Council to negotiate a formal resolution. Historically, China, a permanent member of the council, and the only significant friend of North Korea, has resisted efforts by the UN to issue formal resolutions condemning the country.

John Bolton, the US ambassador in New York, noted, however, that the first round of discussions yesterday had been "very interesting, because no member defended what the North Koreans have done".

The US Assistant Secretary of State, Christopher Hill, was due last night to travel to the region, where he will meet counterparts from South Korea, Japan and China to discuss a response and assess whether the six-party talks are worth reviving.

The Japanese government had announced unilateral economic measures against North Korea. In Seoul, the South Korean government said it would withhold rice and fertiliser that had been pledged to the North this year.

The Taepodong-2 missile fell to earth after being aloft for barely 40 seconds. It triggers most anxiety because of its theoretical ability to reach Alaska and perhaps farther.

In London, the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, condemned North Korea and urged the country "immediately" to rejoin the six-party talks.

A strong statement from Nato called the tests "a serious threat to the region and the international community at large".