UNITED NATIONS — The United States and allies South Korea and Japan clashed with China and Russia Friday over North Korea’s latest satellite and ballistic missile launches and threats to use nuclear weapons that have escalated tensions in northeast Asia.

The scene was an emergency open meeting of the U.N. Security Council called after North Korea’s failed launch of a military reconnaissance satellite on May 27 and other launches using ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Since the beginning of 2022, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the North’s official name – has launched over 100 missiles using this banned technology as it has advanced its nuclear weapons program. In response, the U.S. and its allies have carried out an increasing number of military exercises.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari briefed the council meeting saying sovereign states have the right to benefit from peaceful space activities – but the DPRK is expressly prohibited from conducting launches using ballistic missile technology and its continuing violations undermine global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation treaties.

“We remain deeply concerned about growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Khiari said. “There is a need for practical measures to reduce tensions, reverse the dangerous dynamic, and create space to explore diplomatic avenues.”

North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Kim Song insisted that its satellite launches – and it had a successful one last November – are “the legitimate and universal right of a sovereign state” under international law and the Outer Space Treaty. He stressed that reconnaissance satellites are not only needed to strengthen its self-defense capabilities but to defend its sovereignty.

Kim told the Security Council that the “massive deployment of strategic assets and aggressive war exercises” by the United States on the Korean Peninsula and in the region have broken all records and destroyed the military balance.

This has turned the Korean Peninsula “into the most fragile zone in the world, fraught with the danger of outbreak of war,” he said, claiming that joint military exercises since the beginning of the year are “a U.S.-led nuclear war rehearsal.”

The DPRK ambassador said the Security Council shouldn’t waste time debating the legitimate rights of a sovereign state, but should direct its attention to putting an immediate end to the killing of civilians in Gaza, “which continues unabated under U.S. patronage.”

South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Joonkook Hwang said it should be his country – not the DPRK – that should claim the right to self-defense.

He said the DPRK’s nuclear policy and its rhetoric “are getting increasing aggressive and hostile, and Pyongyang no longer views its nuclear arsenal as just a deterrent against the United States, “but instead as a means to attack my country.”

He quoted DPRK leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, saying two weeks ago that the only purpose of their tactical nuclear weapons “is to teach a lesson to Seoul.”

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood urged the Security Council to condemn the DPRK’s launches and hold it accountable for violating U.N. sanctions.

“But two council members, China and Russia, continuously block the Security Council from speaking against the DPRK’s behavior with one voice and makes us all less safe,” he said.

Wood also accused the DPRK of unlawfully transferring dozens of ballistic missiles and over 11,000 containers of munitions to Russia to aid its war against Ukraine, “prolonging the suffering of the Ukrainian people.”

He rejected as “groundless” and disingenuous” claims by the DPRK and its supporters on the council that its missile launches are a response to U.S.-led military exercises.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva countered that “one of the key catalysts for the growing tensions in the region has been and remains the build-up of military activity by the U.S. and its allies.”

U.S.-led military drills against the DPRK and numerous other hostile acts with a threatening military component “are provoking countermeasures from North Korea, which is forced to take action to strengthen its national defense capacity,” she said.

Evstogneeva claimed “the unstable situation around the Korean Peninsula is of benefit to Washington, which continues to confidently and deliberately pursue the path of confrontation instead of dialogue.”

She also dismissed claims that Russia is engaging in illegal military and technical cooperation with the DPRK as “absolutely unfounded.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Fu Cong called the situation on the Korean Peninsula “highly tense, with antagonism and confrontation escalating,” and called on all parties to exercise restraint and avoid any actions or rhetoric that might increase tension.

He warned that a planned large-scale joint military exercise on the peninsula in August “practicing a scenario involving a nuclear war” will only increase tensions.

U.S. envoy Wood retorted that “the United States is in no way a threat to the DPRK,” stressing that the U.S. offer to reach out “an open hand” and hold talks with the DPRK without preconditions over the past few years “has been met with a clenched fist.” 

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