XIAMEN, China: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Tuesday of a global “catastrophe” unless a diplomatic solution is reached over North Korea, rejecting US calls for further sanctions on Pyongyang as useless.
Putin’s comments appeared to draw the lines for a clash with Washington, which on Monday demanded the “strongest possible measures” against North Korea for detonating what it said was a hydrogen bomb.
The announcement and North Korea’s claim that it could mount the warhead on a missile, dramatically upped the stakes in Pyongyang’s standoff with the international community over its banned weapons programs.
Putin, speaking after an international gathering in China, said Russia condemned North Korea’s “provocative” actions.
“But resorting to just any sanctions in this situation is useless and inefficient,” he told reporters in the Chinese city of Xiamen following a summit of the five-nation BRICS club of emerging economies.
Putin called for dialogue and warned against other actions that could escalate the crisis.
“All of this can lead to a global planetary catastrophe and a great number of victims,” he said.
World powers are scrambling to react to the latest ominous advance in the North’s rogue weapons program, which has sent global tensions soaring.
US President Donald Trump has approved in principle the sale of “many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment” for South Korea, the White House said Monday.
South Korea said it fired a volley of ballistic missiles on Monday to simulate an attack on the North’s nuclear test site, followed Tuesday by major live-fire drills at sea.
At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington would soon present a new sanctions resolution for debate in the coming days.
Declaring that “enough is enough,” Haley said incremental sanctions imposed since 2006 had not worked and accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un of “begging for war” with the country’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test.
North Korea’s underground blast had a yield of up to 100 kilotons. That would make it around five times more powerful than the bomb detonated over Hiroshima in 1945.
Haley did not spell out what measures Washington was seeking, but diplomats said they could target oil supplies to North Korea—potentially dealing a major blow to its economy.
New sanctions could also seek to curb tourism to the country and ban North Korean laborers sent abroad.
Russia, along with China—North Korea’s patron and closest political and economic partner—tend to resist placing pressure on North Korea.
During the Security Council meeting, China’s ambassador Liu Jieyi warned that the crisis was worsening and emphasized the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution.
“China will never allow chaos and war on the (Korean) peninsula,” he asserted.
The Security Council has imposed seven sets of sanctions on North Korea since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006, though Pyongyang has repeatedly found ways to circumvent the measures.
The most recent resolutions imposed last month, however, have zeroed in on its already stricken economy, targeting key export sectors such as coal that are a source of hard currency for the regime.
The newest sanctions followed Pyongyang’s firing in July of two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that apparently brought much of the US mainland into range.
Seoul has said the North could be planning another missile test.
Liu urged the parties to agree to a Chinese-Russian plan calling for the North to freeze its missile and nuclear tests and the United States and South Korea to suspend joint military exercises.
Haley rejected the proposal as “insulting.”
“When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that. We certainly won’t,” she declared.
Haley reiterated US threats to impose sanctions on countries that trade with North Korea.
That could have major reverberations: China is the largest trading partner of both the North and the United States.
South Korean response
South Korea’s defense ministry said it was already strengthening its defenses, in part by deploying more US-made Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile launchers.
The South carried out an early-morning volley of ballistic missiles Monday simulated an attack on the North’s nuclear test site, followed Tuesday by the naval drills.
US President Donald Trump and South Korean leader Moon Jae-In spoke on the phone Monday and agreed to remove limits on the payload of the South’s missiles, fixed at 500 kilograms according to a 2001 bilateral agreement.
Trump also approved in principle, the sale of “many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea,” according to a White House readout of the call which did not mention any specific new deals.
Seoul was the fourth-biggest importer of US arms between 2010-2016, purchasing nearly $5 billion of weaponry in that period according to an analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
On Sunday US monitors measured a powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake near the North’s main testing site.
Hours before the test, the North released images of Kim inspecting a device it called a “thermonuclear weapon with super explosive power” entirely made “by our own efforts and technology.”
The South’s defense minister said Seoul believed the North had succeeded in miniaturizing a bomb to fit into a missile.
The North says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, and analysts say it is seeking to strengthen its hand for any future negotiations with Washington.