Pompeo says North Korea talks have not resumed as quickly as hoped: CBS

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has not returned to the negotiation table with North Korea as quickly as it had hoped, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, but he added that Washington knew there would be ‘bumps on the road’ in the denuclearization talks.

Speaking in an interview with CBS, Pompeo said Washington was concerned about North Korea’s firing of short-range missiles. “I wish they would not,” he said, referring to the tests.

The latest of the missile tests by North Korea was carried out on Friday as Pyongyang fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast.

The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Those denuclearization talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them that was made at a June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we hoped but we’ve been pretty clear all along, we knew there would be bumps along the way,” Pompeo said.

He added that Stephen Biegun, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, was in the region on Tuesday and Wednesday, but did not elaborate on the details of his trip. The State Department said last week that Biegun would travel to Japan and Seoul this week.

(The story was refiled to fix a typographical error in paragraph 6)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Russian-North Korea projects foundering because of missile tests

A guard walks along a platform past signs, which read "Russia" (L) and "DPRK"(Democratic People's Republic of Korea), at the border crossing between Russia and North Korea in the settlement of Tumangan, North Korea July 18, 2014.

By Polina Nikolskaya and Katya Golubkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Commercial ventures planned between Russia and North Korea three years ago are not being implemented because of Pyongyang’s missile testing program, the Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East, Alexander Galushka, said.

Russia has been under international scrutiny over North Korea because it has taken a more doveish approach to Pyongyang than Washington, and Russian trade with North Korea increased sharply at the start of this year.

The United States government earlier this month imposed new North Korea-related sanctions that targeted Russian firms and individuals for, it alleged, supporting Pyongyang’s weapons programs and providing oil.

However Galushka, in an interview with Reuters, said Moscow was faithfully implementing the international sanctions regime on North Korea, and held up the stalled bilateral projects as an indication that Pyongyang was paying an economic price for its weapons program.

“Russia has not violated, does not violate and will not work outside the framework (of the resolution) that was accepted by the U.N. Security Council,” said Galushka, who also heads a Russia-North Korean Intergovernmental Commission.

Russian businesses discussed a number of projects with North Korea in 2014. But then North Korea conducted military tests, including some involving nuclear weapons, and the projects became difficult to implement, Galushka said.

One such project, called “Pobeda”, or “Victory,” would have involved Russian investments and supplies that could be exchanged for access to Korean natural resources.

“We told our North Korean partners more than once … that it hampers a lot, makes it impossible, it restricts things, it causes fear,” Galushka said, referring to the weapons testing.

Another joint project between the two countries is a railway link with North Korea, from the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to Korea’s Rajin.

It is operating but below its potential. The link could work at a capacity of 4 million tonnes a year, officials have said previously, but now it only carries around 1.5 million tonnes of coal per year, according to Galushka.

UN sanctions also prohibit countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean laborers working in their territories.

According to Galushka, around 40,000 employees from North Korea worked in Russia. Mainly they are engaged in timber processing and construction.

Russian business is interested in access to the North Korea workforce, Galushka said, but the numbers will stay in line with what the sanctions permit.

He said 40,000 workers from North Korea “is a balance formed in the economy, neither more nor less.”

Bilateral trade between the two countries has been decreasing for the last four years, from $112.7 million in 2013 to $76.9 million in 2016, according to Russian Federal Customs Service statistics.

But it more than doubled to $31.4 million in the first quarter of 2017 in year-on-year terms. Most of Russia’s exports to North Korea are oil, coal and refined products.

Asked to explain why trade was rising if political issues were hurting commercial projects, a spokeswoman for Galushka’s ministry said in an email: “According to the latest data, there was an objective increase due to exports to North Korea, primarily oil products. But the export of oil does not violate the agreements of the UN countries in any way.”

The interview with Galushka took place before the U.S. imposed the sanctions targeting Russian entities and individuals for trading with North Korea.

Galushka’s ministry referred questions about the new sanctions to the Russian foreign ministry.

Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters Washington’s unilateral sanctions worsened tensions on the Korean peninsula, and that Russia is fulfilling its international obligations in full.

 

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

 

China hits back at Trump criticism over North Korea

Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang

By Ben Blanchard and Elias Glenn

BEIJING (Reuters) – China hit back on Monday after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted he was “very disappointed” in China following Pyongyang’s latest missile test, saying the problem did not arise in China and that all sides need to work for a solution.

China has become increasingly frustrated with American and Japanese criticism that it should do more to rein in Pyongyang. China is North Korea’s closest ally, but Beijing is angry with its continued nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea said on Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that proved its ability to strike the U.S. mainland, drawing a sharp warning from Trump and a rebuke from China.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for more action on North Korea just hours after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Washington is “done talking about North Korea”.

A White House statement after the phone call said the two leaders “agreed that North Korea poses a grave and growing direct threat to the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and other countries near and far”.

It said Trump “reaffirmed our ironclad commitment” to defend Japan and South Korea from any attack, “using the full range of United States capabilities”.

Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday after the missile test that he was “very disappointed” in China and that Beijing profits from U.S. trade but had done “nothing” for the United States with regards to North Korea, something he would not allow to continue.

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters responding to Trump’s tweets, said the North Korean nuclear issue did not arise because of China and that everyone needed to work together to seek a resolution.

“All parties should have a correct understanding of this,” it said, adding the international community widely recognized China’s efforts to seek a resolution.

The essence of Sino-U.S. trade is mutual benefit and win-win, with a vast amount of facts proving the healthy development of business and trade ties is good for both countries, the ministry added.

Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming, weighed in too, telling a news conference there was no link between the North Korea issue and China-U.S. trade.

“We think the North Korea nuclear issue and China-US trade are issues that are in two completely different domains. They aren’t related. They should not be discussed together,” Qian said.

China, with which North Korea does the large majority of its trade, has repeatedly said it strictly follows U.N. resolutions on North Korea and has denounced unilateral U.S. sanctions as unhelpful.

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger U.N. sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the North’s second this month.

Any new U.N. Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value”, Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more.

Abe told reporters after his conversation with Trump that repeated efforts by the international community to find a peaceful solution to the North Korean issue had yet to bear fruit in the face of Pyongyang’s unilateral “escalation”.

“International society, including Russia and China, need to take this seriously and increase pressure,” Abe said. He said Japan and the United States would take steps towards concrete action but did not give details.

Abe and Trump did not discuss military action against North Korea, nor what would constitute the crossing of a “red line” by Pyongyang, Deputy Chief Cabinet spokesman Koichi Hagiuda told reporters.

“Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile program and does not care about military threats from the U.S. and South Korea,” state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said on Monday.

“How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?” said the paper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

China wants both balanced trade with the United States and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, its official Xinhua news agency added in a commentary.

“However, to realize these goals, Beijing needs a more cooperative partner in the White House, not one who piles blame on China for the United States’ failures,” it added.

The United States flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a show of force on Sunday in response to the missile test and the July 3 launch of the “Hwasong-14” rocket, the Pentagon said. The bombers took off from a U.S. air base in Guam and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets during the exercise.

“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said in a statement.

“If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”

 

(Additional reporting by Chang-ran Kim in TOKYO, Ben Blanchard and Elias Glenn in BEIJING, Christine Kim in SEOUL and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

 

Nuclear, missile tests show ‘qualitative’ improvement in North Korea capabilities: U.S.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un watching missile test

By David Brunnstrom and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Thursday North Korea had demonstrated a “qualitative” improvement in its nuclear and missile capabilities after an unprecedented level of tests last year, showing the needed to sustain pressure on Pyongyang to bring it back to disarmament negotiations.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a joint news conference after a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts that North Korea had conducted 24 missile tests in the past year, as well as two nuclear tests, and learned from each one.

“Even a so-called failure is progress because … they apply what they have learned to their technology and to the next test. And in our assessment, we have a qualitative improvement in their capabilities in the past year as a result of this unprecedented level of activity,” he said.

“With every passing day the threat does get more acute,” Blinken said, and referred to comments by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, on Sunday that his country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) of a kind that could someday hit the United States.

Blinken said it was vital for the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries to boost cooperation to defend against the threat.

“At the same time, it’s absolutely vitally important that we exercise sustained, comprehensive pressure on North Korea to get it to stop these programs, to come back to the negotiating table, and to engage in good faith on denuclearization,” Blinken said, referring to international sanctions.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump responded on Monday to Kim’s comments on an ICBM test by declaring in a tweet that “It won’t happen!”

Experts say preventing such a test is far easier said than done, and Trump gave no indication what new steps he might take to roll back North Korea’s weapons programs after he takes office on Jan. 20, something successive U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have failed to do.

Former U.S. officials and other experts say the United States essentially had two options when it came to trying to curb North Korea’s fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs – negotiate or take military action.

Neither path offers certain success and the military option is fraught with huge dangers, especially for Japan and South Korea, given their close proximity to North Korea.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama said Tokyo was watching closely to see what kind of Asia policy Trump would follow, but did not expect major changes.

“Will it be exactly the same as we have it now? I doubt it. But basically, I don’t see the direction as changing in a significant way,” he told the news conference, adding that the U.S. security treaties with Tokyo and Seoul were an important pillar of U.S. policy.

Blinken said an effective sanctions campaign required “determination” and “patience.” “I believe that as long as we sustain it and build on it, it will have an effect,” he said.

In another tweet on Monday, Trump said North Korea’s neighbor and only ally, China, was not helping to contain Pyongyang – despite Beijing’s support for successive rounds of U.N. sanctions.

Blinken said Washington had seen positive signs from China in recent weeks in implementing new restrictions on coal imports from North Korea, but added: “That needs to be sustained … to be carried forward.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Lesely Wroughton; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)

North Korea conducts fifth and largest nuclear test, drawing broad condemnation

South Korean emergency meeting

* Test seen as North’s most powerful yet

* Japan protests, sends jets to monitor for radiation

* China begins emergency radiation testing

* South accuses North of “maniacal recklessness”

* UN Security Council to hold closed-door meeting Friday –
dips

(Adds UN, CTBTO estimate, further condemnations)

By Ju-min Park and Jack Kim

SEOUL, Sept 9 (Reuters) – North Korea conducted its fifth
and biggest nuclear test on Friday and said it had mastered the
ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, ratcheting up
a threat that its rivals and the United Nations have been
powerless to contain.

The blast, on the 68th anniversary of North Korea’s
founding, was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima,
according to some estimates, and drew condemnation from the
United States as well as China, Pyongyang’s main ally.

Diplomats said the United Nations Security Council would
discuss the test at a closed-door meeting on Friday, at the
request of the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Under 32-year-old dictator Kim Jong Un, North Korea has
accelerated the development of its nuclear and missile
programmes, despite U.N. sanctions that were tightened in March
and have further isolated the impoverished country.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in Laos after a summit
of Asian leaders, said Kim was showing “maniacal recklessness”
in completely ignoring the world’s call to abandon his pursuit
of nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Barack Obama, aboard Air Force One on his way
home from Laos, said the test would be met with “serious
consequences”, and held talks with Park and with Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe, the White House said.

China said it was resolutely opposed to the test and urged
Pyongyang to stop taking any actions that would worsen the
situation. It said it would lodge a protest with the North
Korean embassy in Beijing.

There were further robust condemnations from Russia, the
European Union, NATO, Germany and Britain.

North Korea, which labels the South and the United States as
its main enemies, said its “scientists and technicians carried
out a nuclear explosion test for the judgment of the power of a
nuclear warhead,” according to its official KCNA news agency.

It said the test proved North Korea was capable of mounting
a nuclear warhead on a medium-range ballistic missile, which it
last tested on Monday when Obama and other world leaders were
gathered in China for a G20 summit.

Pyongyang’s claims of being able to miniaturise a nuclear
warhead have never been independently verified.

Its continued testing in defiance of sanctions presents a
challenge to Obama in the final months of his presidency and
could become a factor in the U.S. presidential election in
November, and a headache to be inherited by whoever wins.

“Sanctions have already been imposed on almost everything
possible, so the policy is at an impasse,” said Tadashi Kimiya,
a University of Tokyo professor specialising in Korean issues.

“In reality, the means by which the United States, South
Korea and Japan can put pressure on North Korea have reached
their limits,” he said.

UNPRECEDENTED RATE

North Korea has been testing different types of missiles at
an unprecedented rate this year, and the capability to mount a
nuclear warhead on a missile is especially worrisome for its
neighbours South Korea and Japan.

“The standardisation of the nuclear warhead will enable the
DPRK to produce at will and as many as it wants a variety of
smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher
strike power,” KCNA said, referring to the country’s formal
name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It was not clear whether Pyongyang had notified Beijing or
Moscow of its planned nuclear test. Senior officials from
Pyongyang were in both capitals this week.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she
had no information to provide when asked if China had advance
warning of the test, and would not be drawn on whether China
would support tougher sanctions against its neighbour.

Although Beijing has criticised North Korea’s nuclear and
missile tests, it has repeatedly expressed anger since the
United States and South Korea decided in July to deploy the
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system
in the South.

China calls THAAD a threat to its own security and will do
nothing to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table on
its nuclear programme.

Preliminary data collected by the Vienna-based Comprehensive
Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitors
nuclear tests around the world, indicates the magnitude – around
5 – of the seismic event detected in North Korea on Friday was
greater than a previous one in January.

Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute
of International Studies said the highest estimates of seismic
magnitude suggested this was North Korea’s most powerful nuclear
test so far.

He said the seismic magnitude and surface level indicated a
blast with a 20- to 30-kilotonne yield. Such a yield would make
this test larger than the nuclear bomb dropped by the United
States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two.

“That’s the largest DPRK test to date, 20-30kt, at least.
Not a happy day,” Lewis told Reuters.

South Korea’s military put the force of the blast at 10
kilotonnes, which would still be the North’s most powerful
nuclear blast to date.

“The important thing is, that five tests in, they now have a
lot of nuclear test experience. They aren’t a backwards state
any more,” Lewis said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim, Ju-min Park, James Pearson, Se Young
Lee, Nataly Pak, and Yun Hwan Chae in SEOUL; Additional
reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Kaori Kaneko and Linda
Sieg in TOKYO, Kirsti Knolle in VIENNA and Eric Beech and
Michelle Nichols in WASHINGTON; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing
by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ian Geoghegan)

North Korea lays new landmines near border truce village: report

truce village between North and South Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has laid landmines in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday, as tension rose on the divided peninsula after the start of annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

North Korea, which conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and a string of rocket tests since then, regards the joint exercises as akin to war and has threatened to launch a military strike in retaliation.

North Korea had laid the mines near the DMZ “truce village” of Panmunjom, which is controlled by both of the Koreas and the U.S. military.

“North Korean’s military was seen laying several landmines last week on the North’s side of the Bridge of No Return,” Yonhap quoted an unidentified South Korean government source as saying.

The bridge crosses over a river along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) border, near the scene of a 1976 attack by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers in which two U.S. soldiers were killed.

Yonhap said the mines were laid on the North’s side of the MDL border.

The DMZ is littered with mines planted over the years but neither side is meant to lay new ones. Last year, two South Korean soldiers were wounded by what the South said were mines laid by the North. The North expressed regret for the incident, without directly admitting to planting them.

South Korea’s defense ministry declined to comment on the Yonhap report of new mines saying the area was under the control of the U.N. Command.

The U.N. Command, headed by the U.S. military, which jointly supervises security in Panmunjom with the North, expressed concern about activities by the North’s military but did not confirm the report about mines.

“The presence of any device or munition on or near the bridge seriously jeopardizes the safety” of people near the border, the U.N. Command said in a statement.

It declined to speculate on the reason for recent unspecified activity by the North’s military.

Yonhap cited the government source as saying the mines may have been laid to prevent North Korean soldiers from defecting to the South.

On Monday, the North’s military said it was prepared to launch a retaliatory strike against the South and the United States in response to the annual drills called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, in which about 25,000 U.S. troops are participating.

Tension has been inflamed in recent days by the defection of a senior North Korean diplomat to the South in an embarrassing blow to the North.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.S. hopes for talks with China about possible missile defense deployment to South Korea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes to talk with China and address its concerns about the possible deployment of the THAAD missile defense system that Washington is discussing with Seoul, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, stressed that the United States and South Korea had just begun discussions, and no decision had been made to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Gottemoeller also emphasized that the system was defensive in nature and aimed at North Korea, not China.

“THAAD is truly only capable of defending the territory on which it’s deployed. It is not capable of the kind of reach that the Chinese seem to be afraid that it has,” she told reporters at a breakfast meeting.

“We will be very glad and hope we’ll have the opportunity to sit down and talk with China about those very technical limitations and facts about the system,” she said.

Gottemoeller gave no timetable for a possible meeting.

The United States and South Korea agreed to begin the talks last month after North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7 carrying what it called a satellite.

Wang Yi, the foreign minister of China, North Korea’s neighbor and main ally, last month underscored China’s concerns about a possible THAAD deployment but seemed to open the door to a diplomatic solution.

Wang said China understood the desire of the United States and South Korea to ensure the defense of their own countries, but Beijing had legitimate concerns that should be addressed.

U.S. military officials have long said the THAAD system is needed in South Korea, but until North Korea’s recent satellite launch, Seoul had been reluctant to openly discuss its deployment given the risk of damaging ties with China.

Army Lieutenant General David Mann, commander, U.S. Army Space & Missile Command, told reporters that the THAAD system would result in a “huge increase” in missile defense capabilities on the Korean peninsula. But he said Washington understood the sensitivity of the discussions given the concerns raised by China, one of South Korea’s key trading partners.

“It’s very, very important that we clarify that that radar, that system is not looking at China,” he said. “If the decision is made to deploy it, that system would be oriented on North Korea and threats posed by the North Korean military.”

The system was designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final phase of flight.

Mann said the Army would complete training for its fifth THAAD system by the end of the year. He said Japan was also interested in the system, as were U.S. military commanders in Europe and the Middle East.

Once a site was approved and prepared, the THAAD system could be deployed “in a matter of weeks,” Mann said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

North Korea fires short-range projectiles into sea amid tension over nuclear ambitions

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired five short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast on Monday, South Korea’s military said, amid heightened tension over the isolated country’s nuclear and rocket programs.

The unidentified projectiles were launched from south of the city of Hamhung and flew about 120 miles, landing in waters east of North Korea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

On Friday, North Korea fired two mid-range ballistic missiles into the sea in defiance of tough new U.N. and U.S. sanctions slapped on the country following nuclear and rocket tests earlier this year.

“North Korea should refrain from all provocative actions, including missile launches, which are in clear violation of U.N. resolutions,” Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, told reporters in Seoul when asked about Monday’s firing.

In recent weeks, North Korea has stepped up its bellicose rhetoric, threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Washington and Seoul and firing short-range missiles and artillery into the sea.

The North protests annual ongoing joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week that the country would soon test a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in what would be a direct violation of U.N. resolutions that have the backing of Pyongyang’s chief ally, China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was “deeply concerned” about the situation on the Korean peninsula.

“We hope North Korea does not do anything to contravene U.N. Security Council resolutions. We also hope all sides can remain calm and exercise restraint and avoid doing anything to exacerbate confrontation or tensions,” she told a daily news briefing.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and James Pearson; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie and Tony Munroe)

Defiant North Korea fires ballistic missile into sea, Japan protests

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two ballistic missiles on Friday, one of which flew about 800 km (500 miles) while the other exploded shortly after launch, U.S. officials said, as the isolated state stepped up its defiance of tough new U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

U.S. officials told Reuters the medium-range missiles appeared to be fired from road-mobile launchers.

One missile, fired from north of the capital, Pyongyang, flew across the peninsula and into the sea off the east coast early Friday morning, South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

That would mark North Korea’s first test of a medium-range missile, one of which was capable of reaching Japan, since 2014.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the second missile flew a short period before exploding.

South Korea did not confirm the type of missile but U.S. officials said they were medium-range ballistic missiles.

A range of 800 km was likely beyond the capability of most short-range missiles in North Korea’s arsenal. The North’s Rodong missile has an estimated maximum range of 1,300 km (810 miles), according to the South’s defense ministry.

North Korea’s action provoked a barrage of criticism and appeals.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged it to abide by U.N. resolutions and not do anything to exacerbate tensions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States was “analyzing the results of those launches,” but called on Beijing to use its influence over Pyongyang.

“China could do a lot more,” Carter said, adding Beijing should seek a nuclear-free North Korea.

The U.S. State Department in a statement urged North Korea to focus on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.

Japan lodged a protest with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament.

“Japan strongly demands North Korea to exercise self-restraint and will take all necessary measures, such as warning and surveillance activity, to be able to respond to any situations,” Abe said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Pyongyang should focus on improving the lives of its people and that provocative actions would help nothing.

NUCLEAR WARHEADS

North Korea often fires missiles during periods of tension on the Korean peninsula or when it comes under pressure to curb its defiance and abandon its weapons programs.

Last week, the North fired two short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast and its leader Kim Jong Un ordered more nuclear weapons tests and missile tests.

That came after North Korean media said the North had miniaturized nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles and quoted Kim as calling on the military to prepare for a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” against the United States and South Korea.

U.S. President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday over its nuclear test and satellite launch. The sanctions freeze North Korean government assets in the United States, bans U.S. exports to, or investment in, North Korea, and expands a U.S. blacklist to anyone, including non-Americans, who deals with North Korea.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7 in defiance of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The North has called annual joint drills by U.S. and South Korean troops that began on March 7 “nuclear war moves” and threatened to wipe out its enemies.

The U.S. and South Korea remain technically at war with the North because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce instead of a peace agreement. In recent weeks, the two Koreas have suspended economic ties over the mounting tensions.

South Korea and U.S. officials this month began discussions on deploying the advanced anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system to the U.S. military in the South, despite Chinese and Russian objections.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s supreme court sentenced a visiting American student to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state, a punishment Washington condemned as politically motivated.

(Additional reporting by Tokyo newsroom, Phil Stewart in Washington and Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing; Editing by Bill Tarrant and James Dalgleish)

Iran seen escaping U.N. sanctions over missiles due to ambiguous resolution

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iran will likely escape new United Nations sanctions, though the U.N. Security Council could issue a public reprimand for recent launches of what Western officials described as ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, diplomats said.

Council diplomats said the case for sanctions was weak, hinging on interpretation of ambiguous language in a resolution adopted by the 15-member body last July, part of an historic deal to curb Iran’s nuclear work.

International sanctions on Tehran were lifted in January under the nuclear deal brokered by Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. Diplomats said all six countries agreed the ballistic missile tests do not violate the core agreement.

However, the Security Council resolution “calls upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from activity, including launches, related to ballistic missiles designed with the capability of delivering nuclear weapons.

Key powers agree that request is not legally binding and cannot be enforced under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with sanctions and authorization of military force. But Western nations, which view the language as a ban, say there is a political obligation on Iran to comply.

Britain said the missile launches show Iran’s “blatant disregard” for the resolution, while France said it was “a case of non-compliance.” The United States initially deemed the tests a violation, but has softened that stance, calling Iran “in defiance” of the resolution.

Russia, which has Security Council veto power, says Iran has not violated the resolution. Russia opposes new U.N. sanctions, but acknowledged that if the missiles were proven capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, it could be suggested Tehran has not been “respectful” of the council.

“A call is different from a ban, so legally you cannot violate a call, you can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Monday. “The legal distinction is there.”

Laura Rockwood, former chief of the legal department at the International Atomic Energy Agency and now head of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, said of the U.N. resolution: “This was probably a classic case of language negotiated with ‘constructive ambiguity’ in mind.”

In a 2010 resolution, the Security Council decided Iran “shall not” carry out activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons – a clear, legal ban.

The United States agreed to soften the language on ballistic missiles in the July resolution, largely because Russia and China insisted, diplomats said.

“When you look at your hand, and you can’t even bluff … you fold,” said a U.S. official.

Despite Russia’s opposition to new sanctions, the United States has vowed to continue pushing for U.N. Security Council action on the ballistic missile tests. Instead of sanctions, the council could decide to issue a statement rebuking Iran, not only for the missile tests, but for threatening another state.

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ missile battery said the missiles tested were designed to be able to hit U.S. ally Israel. The United States condemned the remarks and Russia said countries should not threaten each other.

Churkin also argued the U.N. resolution required a heavy burden of proof that the ballistic missiles were “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The United States and its European allies are expected to make a technical case to the council about how Iran failed to abide by the U.N. resolution.

“These were designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. This merits a council response,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told reporters on Monday.

According to the International Missile Control Regime, ballistic missiles are considered nuclear capable if they have a range of at least 300 km and can carry a payload of up to 500 kg.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said he did not believe Iran’s missile launches were a violation of the “ambiguous” resolution because the “missiles in question can’t be proven to have been designed to deliver nuclear weapons.”

Iranian officials, including pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, insist Tehran’s missile program does not violate the nuclear deal or the U.N. resolution.

“With Russia and China on Iran’s side, there will be no resolutions, sanctions or any action against Iran over its missile or aerospace programs,” said a senior official in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Now that sanctions on Tehran had been lifted, the official said Western countries were keen to do business in Iran.

“Iran is not being seen as a danger any more even for the Western countries,” the official said. “Iran is like a gold mine for them. They need us and we need them. So, why endanger this situation?”

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara and John Irish in Paris; Editing by David Gregorio)