Japan and South Korea urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to send a "clear and unequivocal" message to North Korea, following its latest and most dangerous launch of a ballistic missile that flew over Japan.
"This council should be mindful that it is being tested and that its credibility is at stake. Silence is not an option," Japan's U.N. envoy Kimihiro Ishikane told council members.
Wednesday's emergency meeting follows North Korea's test-firing on Tuesday of a reported intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew an estimated 4,600 kilometers before landing in waters about 3,200 kilometers east of Japan. The launch violates numerous Security Council resolutions.
North Korea did not speak at the meeting but appeared to respond by firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea as diplomats met in New York. The South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff and Japanese government reported the launch, the sixth round of firings in less than two weeks.
South Korea's envoy said his country is living with missile provocations on a near-daily basis.
"The Security Council must take decisive measures to send a unified and clear message to Pyongyang that its escalatory behavior must come to an end," Ambassador Hwang Joon-kook told the council. "In the meantime, the existing Security Council sanctions measures must be fully and faithfully implemented by all members of the United Nations, especially by council members."
He said that might be the only way to effectively pressure North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
Tuesday's North Korean missile launch follows a major joint naval exercise between the U.S. and South Korea featuring the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan supercarrier.
The United States was among the council members who requested Wednesday's Security Council open meeting.
"We can and must return to a time when we spoke with a unified voice against the DPRK's malign behavior and when we stood together in support of the global nonproliferation regime," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, referring to North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, by its abbreviation.
"This means fully implementing existing DPRK resolutions, it means undertaking sanctions-maintenance efforts, and it means pursuing a resolution to address DPRK sanctions-evasion activities going forward," she said.
After the meeting, she told reporters that the council would "continue to engage over the course of the next week to find a unified voice and way forward."
But the appetite for tightening existing sanctions or seeking new ones appeared slim.
China and Russia both offered justifications for Pyongyang's behavior, saying it was not rewarded for previous lulls in missile launches and describing the recent U.S.-South Korea military exercises as provocative.
"A brief examination will reveal that the DPRK launch activities took place either before or after such military exercises and did not exist in isolation," China's Deputy Ambassador Geng Shuang said.
"Introducing new sanctions against DPRK is a dead end," said Russia's deputy envoy Anna Evstigneeva. "It's a measure, as we already stated, that is bringing us zero result when it comes to DPRK."
Nearly all the other council members condemned the recent launches, called for council resolutions to be respected and enforced, and expressed concern that DPRK might escalate further with a nuclear test. Some expressed concern that council silence has emboldened North Korea.
Several council members pointed out that North Korea has launched 39 ballistic missiles this year — eight since late September. Tuesday's launch is viewed as especially provocative, as it upped the ante from the short-range missiles Pyongyang had previously used.
They urged dialogue and diplomacy as the only viable path out of the situation.
'Defensive deterrence steps'
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was taking "appropriate defensive deterrence steps" with allies and partners in response to North Korea's "dangerous and reckless" launch of a long-range missile.
"If they [North Korea] continue down this road, it will only increase the condemnation, increase the isolation, increase the steps that are taken in response to their actions," Blinken said during a press conference in Santiago, Chile.
The top U.S. diplomat said Washington remains open to a dialogue with Pyongyang.
"We call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in a sustained and substantive dialogue," he said.
After the DPRK's ballistic missile launches, Japan requested a trilateral meeting with the U.S. and South Korea in Tokyo this month.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.