U.S. President Donald Trump says he has sought Russia's help in resolving the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program but is not satisfied with Russia's efforts.
Shortly after Trump made his remarks to reporters at the White House on December 15, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Russia and China to do more to pressure North Korea, and charged that Moscow continued to employ North Korean workers in "slave-like conditions."
Trump said that he had a "great" phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin late on December 14 in which they discussed the North Korean crisis.
While the two discussed other issues, "the primary point was to talk about North Korea, because we would love to have his help on North Korea," said Trump, who the Kremlin said initiated the phone call.
"We're going to see what happens with North Korea. We have a lot of support. There are a lot of nations that agree with us -- almost everybody," Trump said. "China is helping. Russia is not helping. We'd like to have Russia's help -- very important."
Tillerson later in remarks to the United Nations Security Council in New York said the United States was calling on Russia and China to go beyond sanctions already imposed by the council and cut off all oil shipments as well as end guest-worker programs for thousands of North Korean workers.
UN studies have said most of Pyongyang's workers toil in China and Russia under a system that forces them to send most of their earnings back to the government in North Korea, which the United States maintains uses the cash to help fund the country's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.
Tillerson said about 35,000 of the workers are in Russia right now.
"Continuing to allow North Korean laborers to toil in slave-like conditions inside Russia in exchange for wages used to fund nuclear-weapons programs calls into question Russia's dedication as a partner for peace," Tillerson told the UN council.
Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya shot back, saying North Korean workers were in Russia as part of a bilateral agreement "which guarantees their rights," and they were not subject to slave-like conditions.
Nebenzya also returned fire over the U.S. accusation that Russia is not doing enough to resolve the standoff, repeating Moscow's accusation that joint military exercises conducted by the United States and South Korea have contributed to the tensions and should be stopped temporarily while North Korea stops weapons testing to show that both sides are ready to discuss peace.
"We very much hope that the U.S. will be able to help resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula," Nebenzya said, directly addressing Tillerson.
Nebenzya said North Korea wouldn't halt its nuclear and missile programs "while it feels a direct threat to its security," and that is why Russia and China had urged both sides to take steps to de-escalate the situation.
Instead, the United States and North Korea have escalated their exchange of "military rhetoric," Nebenzya said, which, "accompanied by a test of strength by the participants, has led to a situation where around the world people have begun to wonder whether there will be war or not."
"All of these steps force us to wonder about the sincerity of statements that suggest that there is a preference for a peaceful approach to resolving the crisis" in the United States, Nebenzya said.
Tillerson's remarks before the UN council appeared to backtrack some on overtures he made to North Korea earlier this week to open peace talks.
While saying earlier that he was ready to meet with North Korea "without preconditions" requiring North Korea to essentially renounce its nuclear weapons development before negotiations, on December 15 he declared, "We will never accept a nuclear North Korea."
"North Korea must earn its way back to the table," Tillerson told the UN council. "The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved. We will in the meantime keep our channels of communication open."
North Korean Ambassador Ja Song Nam did not back off his country's tough rhetoric in a rare appearance before the UN council on December 15 in which he called the country's nuclear-weapons program "an inevitable self-defensive measure," given what he called "the U.S. nuclear threat and blackmail."
He said the United States was "terrified" that Pyongyang tested missiles this year that it claims are capable of delivering nuclear weapons anywhere in the United States.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis disputed that claim on December 15, however, saying that North Korea "has not yet shown to be a capable threat against us" despite the technological advances demonstrated by its recent intercontinental-ballistic-missile tests.
North Korea has conducted more than 20 ballistic-missile tests during 2017 and its most powerful nuclear explosion to date.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters