Only diplomacy can avert ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea, warns Putin
Xiamen/Seoul — The world is grappling with how to respond to an increasingly belligerent, and capable, North Korea.
As the US called for stronger sanctions and South Korea welcomed an agreement with the US to scrap a weight limit on its warheads, saying that would help it respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of a global “catastrophe” unless a diplomatic solution could be found.
North Korea has said it has developed a hydrogen bomb that it can mount on a missile — dramatically raising the stakes in Pyongyang’s standoff with the international community over its banned weapons programmes.
South Korea’s Asia Business Daily, citing an unidentified source, reported on Tuesday that North Korea had been spotted moving a rocket that appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) towards its west coast.
Putin said on Tuesday that Russia “condemns” North Korea’s actions as “provocative”.
“But resorting to just any sanctions in this situation is useless and inefficient,” he told reporters in the Chinese city of Xiamen following the annual summit of the five-nation Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA) club of emerging economies.
He said imposing tougher sanctions would not change the leadership in Pyongyang, but could lead to large-scale human suffering.
Putin called for dialogue on the crisis and warned against other actions that could cause the situation to escalate. “All of this can lead to a global planetary catastrophe and a great number of victims,” he said.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday that Russian oil supplies to North Korea were close to zero and Moscow had not discussed the possibility of curbs on energy supplies to Pyongyang with its international partners.
South Korea said on Tuesday that an agreement with the US to scrap a weight limit on its warheads would help it respond to the North Korean threat.
South Korean officials believe more provocation from the reclusive state is possible, despite international outrage over Sunday’s test and the calls for more sanctions.
South Korea’s defence ministry, which warned on Monday that North Korea was ready to launch an ICBM at any time, said they were unable to confirm the report of a missile being moved to the west coast.
The report said that it was spotted being moved only at night, to avoid detection.
Analysts and South Korean policy makers believe North Korea may engage in another provocation on or around September 9, when the North celebrates its founding day.
North Korea’s fifth nuclear test fell on the same day last year, reflecting Pyongyang’s preference to conduct weapons tests on key holidays for strategic impact.
South Korea is talking to Washington about deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the Korean peninsula, and has been ramping up its own defences in the meantime.
South Korea’s navy held more drills on Tuesday.
“Today’s training is being held to prepare for maritime North Korean provocations, inspect our navy’s readiness and to reaffirm our will to punish the enemy,” an unidentified South Korean naval officer told a Defence Ministry briefing.
US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, agreed on Monday to scrap a warhead weight limit on South Korea’s missiles, South Korea’s presidential office said, enabling it to strike North Korea with greater force in the event of a military conflict.
The White House said Trump gave “in-principle approval” to the move.
The US and South Korea signed a pact in 1979, a year after the South successfully tested a ballistic missile, with Washington expressing the need for limits on ballistic missile capability over concerns that such tests could harm regional security.
“We believe the unlimited warhead payload will be useful in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing on Tuesday.
Under the current guidelines, last changed in 2012, South Korea can develop missiles up to a range of 800km with a maximum payload of 500kg.
Most of North Korea’s missiles are designed to carry payloads of 100kg-1,000kg, according to Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a US-based think thank.
The Hwasong 14 ICBM, tested twice by the North in July, has a potential range of up to 10,000km and is capable of carrying a 300kg-700kg warhead, according to the NTI.
‘Patience not unlimited’
On Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “begging for war” and urged the 15-member UN Security Council to impose the “strongest possible” sanctions to deter him and shut down his trading partners.
Trump held calls with foreign leaders on Monday, including Moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the White House declared that “all options to address the North Korean threat are on the table”.
Haley said the US would circulate a new Security Council resolution on North Korea this week and wanted a vote on it on Monday.
“War is never something the US wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited. We will defend our allies and our territory,” Haley said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Tuesday she felt her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, was open to additional sanctions on North Korea after they discussed the North’s sixth nuclear test.
“I cannot tell you exact details as the minister asked me not to disclose the content of our discussion, but I could sense that China could be open to more sanctions,” Kang told lawmakers in parliament after her phone call with Wang on Monday.
Diplomats have said the Security Council could now consider banning North Korean textile exports and its national airline, stop supplies of oil to the government and military, prevent North Koreans from working abroad and add top officials to a blacklist to subject them to an asset freeze and travel ban.
The sanctions imposed after July’s missile tests aimed to slash Pyongyang’s $3bn annual export revenue by a third by banning exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood.
China accounted for 92% of North Korea’s trade in 2016, according to South Korea’s government trade promotion agency.
AFP and Reuters