The Security Council stalemate over North Korea’s rocket launch is turning into an early test of the Obama administration’s U.N.-focused multilateralism.
Six days after U.S. President Barack Obama called for swift punishment of North Korea, the Security Council hasn’t acted.
While Japan is pressing for a quick response, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice has tried to downplay expectations of immediate progress.
China and Russia have resisted a draft Security Council resolution, put forth by the U.S. and Japan, that would at a minimum enforce military and financial sanctions imposed on North Korea after its underground nuclear weapons test in October 2006.
The sanctions were never fully implemented in deference to six-party talks among Russia, China, the U.S., Japan and the two Koreas to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program. China and Russia say reviving the talks is the ultimate goal — which shouldn’t be jeopardized by punishment for the launch.
Pyongyang says its launch was an attempt to launch a satellite and not a U.N.-banned ballistic missile test as Washington contends. Before the launch, North Korea warned it wouldn’t resume the six-party talks — on hold since December — if the Security Council acts against the country.
Japan’s foreign minister arrived in New York on Thursday, saying he will join the U.N. negotiations for as long as necessary to break the stalemate.
For Mr. Obama, who pledged renewed reliance on the U.N. during his presidential campaign, the North Korean crisis presents hard choices, analysts say.
Among the possible scenarios they suggest are walking away from the U.N. and six-party talks, and working with Congress to punish North Korea with more U.S.-only sanctions. Or, President Obama might consider forcing Russia and China to veto or abstain on a resolution — and risk Pyongyang abandoning negotiations. The president also could compromise with a watered-down U.N. statement that could save the talks but lose face.
U.S. officials declined to comment on the administration’s thinking or on details of U.N. talks with Russia and China.
Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a liberal think tank, said Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy team had “no illusions about how long this would take” with Russia and China. “They are looking for sustained collective action, not an immediate slap on the wrist,” he said.
Ted Galen Carpenter, an analyst at the conservative Cato Institute, sees U.S. foreign policy reverting to “the style of the Clinton administration,” which believed in operating multilaterally when possible and unilaterally when necessary. “For the Bush administration it was exactly the opposite,” he added.
Bush-administration unilateralists, some analysts say, regarded the U.N. as an obstacle to American foreign policy.
Although thwarted in seeking U.N. backing for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration proceeded anyway. But on North Korea, Bush officials went from a rejection of the six-party talks to a decision that multilateral participation was the only way to end Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons ambition.
By Joe Lauria
The Wall Street Journal