China is threatening to veto a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would penalize North Korea for testing ballistic missiles. The Council put off a vote on the measure for a second straight day in the face of stiff Chinese and Russian opposition.
A week after North Korea fired ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, the Security Council is deadlocked over how to respond. Envoys of Japan and the five permanent Council members met Tuesday and decided not to press for a vote on a toughly-worded sanctions resolution that four of them are co-sponsoring and two others firmly oppose.
After the meeting, the French and British representatives acknowledged that action was stalled in the face of a rare Chinese veto threat. All five permanent members have veto power, but China has only used its Council veto twice in the past 30 years.
Without mentioning China by name, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said one country had made clear that it would block the North Korea resolution. "When a permanent member of the Security Council says a resolution will not pass, you know, things are clear," he said.
British Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry also declined to name China directly. But he said one veto-wielding member had informed the others that, in diplomatic terms, there could be no outcome on the resolution. "I said we did not believe we would get an outcome, and we've been assured we would not get an outcome," he said.
Russia has joined China in opposing the measure, which would impose legally-binding penalties on North Korea under the Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested that invoking Chapter Seven would be an over-reaction to the Korean missile launches.
"As a matter of principle, we believe Chapter Seven is very serious, very heavy stuff, and we should not be throwing the book at every situation. We have to be careful about it," he said.
After Tuesday's meeting, the American U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Council members had agreed to await the outcome of a Chinese diplomatic mission to Pyongyang currently in progress.
North Korea has warned it would take the imposition of sanctions as tantamount to a declaration of war. But Bolton said the Council should not be intimidated by threats coming from North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il.
"Historical experience tells us that succumbing to those threats only gives acquiescence and produces more such threats and more such behavior. In this case I think we have to try and do what we think is right to protect international peace and security, and not try to psychoanalyze Kim Jong Il," he said.
Bolton said the Council would continue to review the issue day by day, with meetings of the permanent five members and Japan each morning.
China has offered a strongly worded presidential statement as a possible alternative to the resolution. The statement expresses grave concern at the missile tests, and calls on member states to impose voluntary sanctions against North Korea, but would not have legal force.