- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

SEOUL | North Korea’s rocket launch left the U.N. Security Council with few options for punishing the defiant nation at an emergency session Sunday, despite calls for a “strong” response by President Obama and others.

The session ended after more than three hours with no immediate action other than an agreement to continue consultations.

Long before North Korea shot its multistage Taepodong-2 rocket over Japan and saw it plop into the Pacific on Sunday morning, Japan and South Korea had cut aid to the isolated nation.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the council could not achieve consensus on whether the rocket test violated a 2006 resolution banning North Korea from testing missiles and atomic weapons.

“Members expressed varying views on that topic,” Ms. Rice said.

By calling its action a civilian space launch, North Korea attempted to bypass the 2006 U.N. sanctions.

Washington and Tokyo are drafting a resolution demanding stricter enforcement, and possible expansion, of an existing arms embargo and financial sanctions, Reuters news agency reported.

The United States and many of its allies, including Japan and South Korea, had said a launch would violate the U.N. resolution, which was imposed after the North’s 2006 test of an atomic bomb.

Japan requested the emergency session Sunday afternoon. After it ended, China’s U.N. envoy urged caution.

“I think we are now in a very sensitive moment,” Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters. “Regarding the reaction of the Security Council, our position is that it has to be cautious and proportionate.”

Russia, which like China is one of five veto-wielding members of the council, called for a “balanced” approach.

After the launch of the three-stage rocket at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Pyongyang’s official media reported that it had put a communications satellite in orbit.

“The carrier rocket and the satellite developed through our indigenous wisdom and technology are the shining result of efforts to develop the nation’s space science and technology,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

The United States and South Korea said the rocket and the satellite failed to separate and both plunged into the Pacific.

“Now is the time for a strong international response,” Mr. Obama said in Prague. “North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons.”

If it worked properly, the Taepodong-2 rocket, could also be an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the Western United States.

In Seoul, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said, “The government is taking concrete countermeasures … through close consultations with the United Nations and related countries.”

South Korean humanitarian assistance to the North is on indefinite hold, pending progress in denuclearization talks. Moreover, the South remains undecided on joining the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, which is intended to halt international missile sales.

“Nobody can do anything short of military invasion, and nobody is going to invade North Korea,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “North Korea knows that threats mean nothing and in a few months, the Americans will start talking to it - making concessions as usual.”

Rhee Bong-jo, president of the Korean Institute of National Unification in Seoul, said, “North Korea was under sanctions for a long, long time and does not have a deep relationship with any country except China.”

Some analysts believe that Pyongyang’s objective is to press Washington into holding bilateral talks. The North persuaded the George W. Bush administration to take it off the list of nations sponsoring terrorism, but it fell short of winning diplomatic relations with the United States.

As usual with North Korean provocations, the mood in South Korea was low key about the threat from the North, although some protests erupted. But some questioned its impact on the South’s recession-bound economy.

“It will be almost a relief,” said Seoul-based analyst Tom Coyner, who distributes the Korea Economic Newsletter to foreign investors. “Nothing took place that could have raised further tension, such as debris or the rocket falling onto Japan.”

Analysts believe the launch was intended to keep Pyongyang on Washington’s political radar, to advertise its missile technology to potential clients, to grant a populace starved of positive news with a significant achievement or to deter potential U.S. threats.

One prominent pundit said the launch may have been prompted by the deteriorating health of national leader, Kim Jong-il, 67, who is believed to have suffered a stroke, or strokes, in August.

“I saw a picture of Kim Jong-il put out two days ago, and he looks bad: He has really lost weight, his face is sunken, he looks 80 years old,” said Dan Pinkston, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group’s Seoul office. “I wonder if this launch is designed to be part of his legacy?”

Nicholas Kralev reported from Washington, and Barbara Slavin contributed to this report from Washington.

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