Mis­sile launch raises stakes and ten­sions

Trump to main­tain pres­sure on China and Rus­sia to rein in Py­ongyang

The Irish Times - - World News - Suzanne Lynch

The news that North Korea launched its 15th mis­sile test this year in the early hours yes­ter­day has upped the stakes in an al­ready tense sit­u­a­tion.

The mis­sile, which was launched from Py­ongyang air­port at 6.23am lo­cal time, marks the sec­ond time in a month that North Korea has sent a mis­sile over Ja­pan, and comes al­most two weeks af­ter it claimed to have tested a hy­dro­gen bomb.

While the news of the launch prompted a meet­ing of se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and vice-pres­i­dent Mike Pence in the Sit­u­a­tion Room in the White House, the lat­est provo­ca­tion by North Korea was not un­ex­pected.

Py­ongyang was pre­dicted to re­spond in some way to the lat­est round of UN sanc­tions agreed on Mon­day.

De­spite threats by US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to re­spond to any threat from North Korea, the US chose not to shoot down the mis­sile, most likely be­cause it was ev­i­dently not aimed at land – nei­ther Ja­pan nor the US ter­ri­tory of Guam.

But the sym­bol­ism of the lat­est mis­sile test was clear. The in­ter­me­di­ate range bal­lis­tic mis­sile trav­elled 3,700km be­fore crash­ing into the sea – the farthest ever flight by a North Korean mis­sile. The range is proof that North Korea could tar­get Guam if it so chooses.

De­spite the fiery rhetoric from Trump yes­ter­day and North Korean leader Kin Jong-un – the test came a day af­ter North Korea’s gov­ern­ment pledged to “re­duce the US main­land into ashes and dark­ness” – the fo­cus in the in­ter­me­di­ate term is likely to be on diplo­macy.

First ad­dress

Trump, who is due to make his first ad­dress to the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly next week, is ev­i­dently un­happy that the sanc­tions agreed on Mon­day by the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil did not go as far as the United States had wanted.

The US del­e­ga­tion had pushed for a full oil em­bargo – China, which sup­plies about 90 per cent of North Korea’s oil and has a veto on the se­cu­rity coun­cil – op­posed it, although it was agreed to cur­tail oil and fuel ex­ports to the rogue na­tion by about a third.

Sim­i­larly, the United States had cir­cu­lated a pa­per ahead of Mon­day’s meet­ing call­ing for western ships to be given the power to stop and search ves­sels leav­ing and en­ter­ing North Korea.

Again Amer­ica’s am­bi­tions were cur tailed, with the se­cu­rity coun­cil pro­hibit­ing the use of mil­i­tary force to oblige ves­sels to com­ply.

Trump let his feel­ings be known fol­low­ing a meet­ing with Malaysia’s prime min­is­ter in the White House ear­lier this week.

He de­scribed the sanc­tions as a “small step” which “are noth­ing com­pared to what ul­ti­mately will have to hap­pen”.

Speak­ing to re­porters in the White House yes­ter­day, US am­bas­sador to the UN Nikki Ha­ley de­fended the pack­age of sanc­tions, de­scrib­ing the agree­ment reached ear­lier this week as a “mas­sive sanc­tions pack­age”, and point­ing out that it would take time for their ef­fects to be felt.

Nonethe­less, de­spite his mis­giv­ings about the am­bi­tion of the sanc­tions pack­age, there are signs that Trump is likely to main­tain pres­sure on China and Rus­sia rather than call for fur­ther sanc­tions next week.

The United States has been push­ing both coun­tries to do more to rein in North Korea, and sec­re­tary of state Rex Tiller­son was un­equiv­o­cal in his com­ments on the lat­est mis­sile threat yes­ter­day, say­ing China and Rus­sia “must in­di­cate their

China and Rus­sia ‘must in­di­cate their in­tol­er­ance for th­ese reck­less mis­sile launches by tak­ing di­rect ac­tions’

in­tol­er­ance for th­ese reck­less mis­sile launches by tak­ing di­rect ac­tions of their own”.

Stri­dent tone

North Korea is also likely to be the main fo­cus of dis­cus­sion next week when Trump meets South Korea’s pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and Ja­panese prime min­is­ter Shinzo Abe in New York.

Seoul has struck a more stri­dent tone to­wards North Korea, for the first time stat­ing that “di­a­logue is im­pos­si­ble” with North Korea fol­low­ing the lat­est test.

Trump may in­deed make “quite an im­pact” when he ad­dresses the UN next week, as Ha­ley put it. But any move to­wards mil­i­tary ac­tion is not likely to be on the cards at this junc­ture.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IMAGES

A screen in Tokyo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fol­low­ing a North Korean mis­sile test that passed over Ja­pan.

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