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Last updated: July 6, 2006 12:48 am
The world’s big powers appeared divided on Wednesday over whether to respond to North Korea’s provocative missile tests with United Nations financial sanctions – with Russia and China resisting calls by the US and Japan for tough action.
The tests of seven missiles, which came as the US celebrated Independence day, intensified tensions in north-east Asia in spite of the failure of a previously untested long-range missile. The Taepodong-2, which could theoretically hit the continental US, fell into the Sea of Japan within a minute of launch. See graphic
The barrage came in spite of entreaties from North Korea’s friends, including China, its neighbours and the US.
It seemed designed, analysts said, as an incendiary gesture by a regime beset by US sanctions to force Washington to deal with it bilaterally. The US will only talk to North Korea in six-party talks, which also include China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.
As the UN Security Council gathered to discuss the tests, Japan and the US, supported by the UK, pushed for tough measures that would require countries to prevent the transfer of financial resources and materials that would help North Korea’s missile and weapons programmes.
The failure of the Taepodong-2, 40 seconds into its flight, was also viewed as a setback for the regime. North Korea fired six missiles – five of them short-range Nodong or Scud-type rockets – from two sites between 3.30am and 6am local time yesterday. A seventh, probably another Nodong, was fired at 5.30pm.
Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister, called the launches “extremely regret-table”, adding: “Whatever intention may be behind the actions, the firing of the missiles has no benefit at all for North Korea.”
Meanwhile, Tokyo would consider imposing a wide range of sanctions on North Korea, including freezing remittances and clamping down on travel between the two countries. Tokyo immediately stopped visits by a North Korean ferry.
Japan has already imposed sanctions by barring North Korean ships from its ports and imposing a travel ban on North Korean officials.
Beijing – Pyongyang’s closest ally – avoided direct criticism of North Korea in a statement that expressed “serious concern” about “what had happened”.
A senior US administration official described the launches as an embarrassment for China, calling it a “a measure of their inability or unwillingness to restrain the North Koreans from doing something that is very damaging to the multilateral process that the Chinese are very heavily invested in right now”.
Additional reporting by Richard McGregor in Beijing and Daniel Dombey in Brussels
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