US says China and Russia blocking UN action on North Korea

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TANZANIA – The United States accused China and Russia on Monday of shielding North Korea from any action by the U.N. Security Council for its unprecedented spate of intercontinental ballistic missile launches, which violate multiple U.N. resolutions and jeopardize international aviation and maritime safety.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a council meeting that Chinese and Russian “obstructionism” was encouraging North Korea “to launch ballistic missiles with impunity” and advance its development of more sophisticated and dangerous weapons.

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After the meeting, she read a statement on behalf of council members Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom, joined by South Korea, that condemned the launches.

It said the growing crisis threatens not only the region but global peace and stability, and called for the Security Council to speak again with one voice. Unlike Thomas-Greenfield in her remarks, the statement did not name China and Russia, though it clearly referred to them.

A united Security Council imposed sanctions after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years in a total of 10 resolutions seeking — so far unsuccessfully — to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and cut off funding. In the last sanctions resolution adopted by the council in December 2017, members committed to further restricting petroleum exports to North Korea if it conducted a ballistic missile launch capable of reaching intercontinental ranges.

China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution in May 2022 that would have imposed new sanctions, including on petroleum exports, over a spate of ICBM launches. Instead of new sanctions, what's needed now is renewed dialogue between North Korea and the United States, they said, and they maintained that position on Monday.

The briefing came in the midst of the largest U.S. and South Korean military exercises i n years, which have included computer simulations, field exercises, and U.S. long-range B-1B bombers training with South Korean warplanes. North Korea said Monday it simulated a nuclear attack on South Korea with a ballistic missile over the weekend, its fifth launch this month to protest the military drills.

China’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Geng Shuang, claimed that in 2018 North Korea took “the positive initiative of giving up nuclear weapons in return for security,” telling the council “the U.S. side failed to respond with goodwill … wasting an important opportunity for achieving denuclearization on the peninsula.”

Thomas-Greenfield retorted that this was not true, even if North Korea had temporarily stopped testing. “The slew of launches that we’ve seen demonstrate to all of us that (North Korea) was continuing to advance its programs within its own borders,” she said.

China’s Geng and Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, accused the United States of escalating tensions with the current military exercises, dismissing Thomas-Greenfield’s statement that they are longstanding, routine and purely defensive.

Both stressed that the Security Council should focus on de-escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula and urged members to support their resolution proposed in November 2021, which would lift some sanctions to spur dialogue between the United States and North Korea and lessen the impact of the sanctions on the North Korean population.

Geng said their proposed resolution aims “to unleash some positive signals” and encourage North Korea to resume talks and create conditions to ease tensions. Evstigneeva said the resolution “is specifically geared toward arriving at a political diplomatic settlement.”

Thomas-Greenfield reiterated the U.S. offer to hold talks with Pyongyang. But she countered that in their remarks Monday neither the Chinese nor Russian envoy even called on North Korea to stop testing, and their resolution would reward it for failing to comply with Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

“What they are doing is depriving their own people of needed humanitarian assistance that would alleviate their suffering and allow for the international community to come in and provide the needed humanitarian assistance, which we are all willing to do without a resolution,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

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