Nine U.N. Security Council members condemned North Korea's January 30 launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile Friday, saying it was "a significant escalation" in Pyongyang's recent violations of council resolutions and was intended to further destabilize the region.
"We condemn this unlawful action in the strongest terms," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters after a 90-minute closed-door meeting of the 15-nation council. She spoke on behalf of and flanked by her council counterparts from Albania, Brazil, Britain, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway and the United Arab Emirates.
The launch, which took place on Sunday local time, was North Korea's longest-range missile test in more than four years.
"It also marks a new and troubling record — the nine ballistic missiles launched in January is the largest number of launches the DPRK has conducted in a single month in the history of its WMD and ballistic missile programs," Thomas-Greenfield said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
North Korea is forbidden to conduct such launches under the provisions of several Security Council resolutions.
The council last met on January 20 to discuss the launch activity without a united public stance.
"The cost of the council's ongoing silence is too high," the U.S. envoy said on behalf of the group of nine council members. "It will embolden the DPRK to further defy the international community, to normalize its violations of Security Council resolutions, to further destabilize the region, and to continue to threaten international peace and security. This is an outcome that we should not accept."
China's U.N. ambassador told reporters on his way into Friday's meeting that the solution "lies in dialogue" among the direct parties to the issue.
He appeared to put the responsibility on Washington to coax North Korea to the negotiating table, saying it has the key to solving the situation in its hands.
"They should come up with more attractive and more practical, more flexible approaches, policies and actions, and in accommodating the concerns of DPRK," Ambassador Zhang Jun said of the United States. "We have all seen what happened in Singapore. We have all seen what happened in Hanoi. And we have seen suspension of the nuclear test, and we have seen suspension of the launch of ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles]."
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held two summits, one in Singapore in 2018 and another in Vietnam the following year. They did not lead to denuclearization, but tensions cooled between the two nations, with Kim pausing his country's nuclear and long-range missile tests.
The Biden administration has urged Pyongyang to meet without preconditions.
"We stand ready to engage in dialogue, and we will not waver in our pursuit of regional peace and stability and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula consistent with relevant Security Council resolutions," Thomas-Greenfield reiterated Friday.
China's envoy urged the parties and the council to be prudent in both their actions and their words to avoid a full escalation.
"We have seen a vicious circle: confrontation, condemnation, sanctions, and then coming back to confrontation, condemnation and sanctions again," Zhang said. "So what will be the end?"
He said China's "freeze for freeze" proposal remains on the table. That would have Pyongyang freeze its nuclear activity in exchange for partial sanctions relief.
Thomas-Greenfield said that would reward North Korea for bad behavior.
Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Sunday's ICBM launch.
"This is a breaking of the DPRK's announced moratorium in 2018 on launches of this nature and a clear violation of Security Council resolutions," Guterres' spokesman said.
He urged Pyongyang to cease any "further counterproductive actions" and seek a diplomatic solution.