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North Korea's Missile Tests Show Real Progress

  • Brian Padden
  • Margaret Besheer

FILE - In this May 31, 2016, file photo, a man watches a TV news program reporting about a missile launch of North Korea, at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea.

FILE - In this May 31, 2016, file photo, a man watches a TV news program reporting about a missile launch of North Korea, at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea.

The U.N. Security Council met late Wednesday in an emergency session to discuss North Korea's latest missile tests, which violate U.N. resolutions.

The United States and Japan called the meeting, in consultation with their ally, South Korea, to deal with what U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called "a pattern of defiance" by Pyongyang.

"The tests in the last 24 hours are just the latest in that pattern," Power told reporters on her way into the session. "Since March 2 and the passage of Resolution 2270, we have seen 10 ballistic missile tests — a rapid series of these tests in defiance of five U.N. Security Council resolutions. That is unacceptable."

Power urged the council to promptly condemn North Korea.

Following the hourlong closed meeting, council president Alexis Lamek said there was a "very large convergence of views" that the launches violate all council resolutions. Lamek, the French deputy ambassador, said he expects a statement from the council "within days."

It is not unusual for the 15-nation council to take several days, if not weeks, to respond to North Korea following ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.

In March, the council adopted resolution 2270, which imposed tough new sanctions on Pyongyang for conducting its fourth nuclear test and launching a long-range rocket. The sanctions include suspending currency transfers and restricting the North's lucrative mineral trade that had accounted for more than half of the country's $2.5 billion in exports to China alone.

"The provisions of 2270 are completely unprecedented," Power said. She urged council members to address any "hidden gaps" in the enforcement of those measures.

North making progress

Pyongyang conducted its fifth and sixth test of the intermediate-range Musudan missile on Wednesday from the coastal city of Wonsan. U.S. and South Korean military officials said the first missile failed shortly after it was launched but the second missile flew approximately 400 kilometers before falling into the Sea of Japan or East Sea as it called in South Korea.

The last missile tested did not reach the 3,000-kilometer distance the Musudan is designed for, to potentially reach U.S. military bases in Asia and the Pacific. It apparently also did not demonstrate the atmospheric re-entry capability needed to accurately hit a target. But analysts said North Korea continues to learn from each failure and is making advancements with each new test.

WATCH: Pyongyang's nuclear test

“This is a very important milestone because the previous launches had blown up either very shortly after launch or possibly even right at launch. So this is a real sign of progress,” said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.

The multiple missile tests, Lewis said, also indicates that international sanctions have so far not affected North Korea’s ability to acquire the material and technology needed to manufacture these weapons.

According to South Korean media, North Korea is believed to have up to 30 Musudan missiles, which officials said were first deployed around 2007. The first Musudan test occurred in April of this year.

World condemns Kim

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. "strongly condemns the provocative actions that are in violation of international law." "The U.S. will do what we have done in the past, work with international allies and others like Russia and China about what pressure can continue to be applied," he said.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre, who is president of the U.N. Security Council this month, said the latest tests are a "clear violation" of Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from using ballistic missile technology and developing nuclear weapons.

"The North Korean ballistic missile program is a serious threat to regional and international peace and security. Confronted with the threat of proliferation we consider that weakness is not an option. Based on all this, we favor a quick and firm (Security Council) reaction," he said.

The United Nations imposed tough new sanctions on North in March for conducting its fourth nuclear test and launching a long-range rocket. The sanctions include suspending currency transfers and restricting the North’s lucrative mineral trade that had accounted for over half of the country’s $2.5 billion in exports to China alone.

Kim Jong Un has declared his country a nuclear state and has defiantly responded to the international sanctions by conducting multiple missile tests and threatening to proceed with further nuclear testing.

Japan's Self Defense Forces have been on high alert with anti-missile launchers stationed around the country in case the North Korean missiles entered its airspace.

Tokyo said it would issue a strong protest against North Korea for its latest violation of United Nations resolutions.

South Korea called the missile test a clear provocation “against us” and urged Pyongyang to exercise restraint.

“I would like to advise them that it will be good for North Korea to put more effort into peace on the Korean peninsula and their people's livelihood, which the North has been consistently saying," said South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee.

Regional security conference

North Korea’s latest missile test will likely be addressed at a closed-door regional security forum currently underway in Beijing that includes diplomats from North Korea, the U.S. and South Korea. At the conference, North Korean envoy Choe Son Hui is expected to defend her country’s right to develop nuclear weapons to protect itself against the perceived threat from the United States.

Even though China is North Korea’s key ally and trading partner, Beijing opposes Pyongyang’s nuclear program and supports the most recent U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea. However critics said enforcement has been lax as China does not want to destabilize the Kim Jong Un government, and it is unlikely Beijing will support any further measures that would weaken its ally.

“Considering the current situation in Northeast Asia, it is not easy for China to impose sanctions against North Korea as North Korea can be a card for China,” said Korea analyst Woo Su-keun with Donghua University in Shanghai.

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently met with high-level North Korean party officials in Beijing to bolster ties that have been frayed by the North’s nuclear provocations.

Xi has called for restarting international talks to convince the North to give up its nuclear program for economic aid and security guarantees.

Washington and its allies demand that North Korea first halt any further nuclear development before new talks can take place.

Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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