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North Korea: Debate On Sanctions Deferred

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (file photo) (epa) The UN Security Council has deferred a debate on a draft resolution calling for sanctions to be imposed on North Korea, with China warning that it would produce "no unity."

PRAGUE, July 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Japan has presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for sanctions to be imposed on North Korea after it launched seven test missiles on July 5.

The missiles failed shortly after being fired, but the tests have revived long-standing international concerns about the nature of North Korea's weapons program. Anxieties have been particularly acute since early 2003 when Pyongyang announced it was continuing to develop nuclear technology and withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

One of the missiles launched on July 5 is believed ultimately to be capable of hitting targets as far away as Alaska.

Japan's ambassador to the UN, Kenzo Oshima, said his country's proposal to impose sanctions on North Korea had of the United States, Britain, and France, three permanent members of the Security Council, the UN's top body.

Other members of the Security Council accepted that the situation is serious, but a Japanese request for a debate on July 8 was rejected.

Japan and the other cosponsors then agreed to wait until July 10 before taking their next steps.

That leaves the focus, for a few days at least, on other diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.

U.S. President George W. Bush has sent a senior official to the region. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill is discussing the possible next steps with other members of six-party talks on North Korea, which involve Japan, South Korea, Russia and China as well as the United States and North Korea.

The Way Forward?

Bush said on July 7 that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il faces a choice: "he can verifiably get rid of his weapons programs and stop testing rockets, and there's a way forward for him to help his people."

But it is not clear how the international community will try to encourage North Korea along the "way forward."

So far the draft proposal Japan introduced to the Security Council seems unlikely to win the support of China.

The point was made forcefully on July 7 by the Chinese Ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, who said that "if this resolution is put to a vote, definitely there will be no unity in the Security Council."

Wang did not say whether China would use its power of power if the issue were brought to a vote in the Security Council.

Similarly, Russia has warned against an "emotional" response. The chief of the Russian General Staff, Yuri Baluyevsky, told the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, on July 7 that the greatest threat from North Korean missiles was, essentially, their unpredictability.

"These launches presented no direct threat to the territory of the Russian Federation," he said. "However, as a military person I want to say that such launches, especially test launches, considering North Korea's technical level, present a certain danger if the missile trajectory gets completely out of control"

North Korea has bridled at the possibility of UN sanctions, with its deputy ambassador to the UN reportedly saying sanctions would be "an act of war."

North Korea continues to claim its nuclear and missile development programs are for defensive purposes only, to counter the threat posed by the U.S. military presence in Asia.