Russia, China join pressure on NKorea

June 17, 2009 11:13:15 AM PDT
Russia and China expressed serious concern Wednesday about tension on the Korean peninsula and, in the face of North Korea's rhetoric, stepped up international pressure for it to return to nuclear talks. The U.S. vowed it would never accept North Korea as an atomic weapons state and, at a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, urged the country to negotiate with the world's great powers instead of making threats.

Only hours earlier, North Korea warned the United States and its allies of a "thousand-fold" military retaliation if provoked.

Japanese and South Korean news reports said North Korea is preparing an additional site for test-firing a long-range missile that experts say could be capable of striking the United States. A Russian deputy defense minister said earlier that Russia would shoot down any North Korean missile headed its way but might not be able to detect missiles aimed in other directions.

North Korea, which held its first nuclear test in 2006, conducted its second on May 25 in defiance of the United Nations.

China and Russia have in the past used their status as veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council members to soften Western-backed sanctions against North Korea, but approved new punitive measures this month after expressing unusually strong concern over North Korea's recent nuclear test and missile launches.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev tried to nudge North Korea back in line while taking care to avoid angering it further. Both nations have far warmer ties with North Korea than do the United States or Japan, and Russia has repeatedly warned that pressuring North Korea too hard would be counterproductive.

Pyongyang, which is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs, claims they are a deterrence against the United States and accuses Washington of plotting with South Korea to topple its government.

At the IAEA meeting in Vienna, chief U.S. delegate Geoffrey Pyatt declared, "We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state."

"We believe it is in North Korea's own best interests to return to serious negotiations," he said.

President Barack Obama, who met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Washington on Tuesday, announced a global "strategic alliance" to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons.

Obama declared North Korea a "grave threat" to the world and pledged that the U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.

A joint statement summing up talks between the Russian and Chinese leaders at the Kremlin said they "expressed serious concern in connection with the situation on the Korean peninsula," and underscored the need for a peaceful resolution of the tension.

Hu and Medvedev called for the "swiftest renewal" of the talks involving their countries as well as North and South Korea, Japan and the United States, which broke down months ago.

The statement included no new initiatives on the mounting problem and used language that appeared aimed at avoiding raise North Korea's ire further.

Hu's meetings with Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin followed two days of international summits in Russia that underscored both the common goals and the differing interests of the giant neighbors.

Major aid from Moscow to North Korea dried up after the 1991 Soviet collapse, and China has become North Korea's biggest patron by far. Its clout with Pyongyang eclipses Russia's, and the Kremlin normally follows Beijing's lead in Security Council action on North Korea.

China's enforcement of the sanctions is seen as crucial, and critics say the measures will not stop the North from trading weapons with rogue nations or bite deep into its already crumbling economy. A top official with Russia's state arms trade company pledged compliance Wednesday and said the sanctions will not hurt Russia because it has little arms trade with the North, Interfax reported.

Russia has said North Korea is not solely to blame for the breakdown of the six-nation talks suggesting the United States, South Korea and Japan also must share responsibility.

Hu's meetings with Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin followed two days of international summits n Russia that underscored common goals but also pointed to conflicting economic interests and competition over influence in the energy-rich Central Asian states they neighbor.

Eager to counter the influence of the West, especially the United States, China and Russia have forged what Hu called a "strategic partnership" after decades of tension during Soviet era, but China's trade with the United States far exceeds its trade with Russia.


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