UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Russia and China blocked the U.N. Security Council on Thursday from imposing sanctions on five North Korean officials in response to Pyongyang's recent ballistic missile tests, a decision criticized by the United States which sought to impose penalties over their roles in the country's missile program.
At an emergency council meeting on the North's four ballistic missile launches in the last two weeks, the United States called on the 15 council members to approve a brief press statement recalling that such launches violate council resolutions and strongly urging Pyongyang to comply with its council obligations "and to engage in dialogue towards denuclearization."
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the council meeting was closed, said China, a neighbor and ally of North Korea, opposed any statement.
Before the meeting started, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield read a statement to reporters from eight countries calling North Korea's "unlawful behavior ... a threat to international peace and security."
"These launches demonstrate the regime's determination to pursue weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs at all costs, including at the expense of its own people," the eight nations said.
The U.S., Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Japan, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom called on the Security Council to be unified in condemning North Korea's violations of its resolutions.
And they called on the council committee monitoring U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang to support sanctions against the five North Koreans proposed by the Biden administration last week, after the U.S. imposed its own sanctions against them.
In the past, the council has been united on North Korea, but there was no council unity on Thursday.
Asked about Russia and China blocking sanctions against the five North Koreans, Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, said any country opposing sanctions gives North Korea "a blank check."
The U.N. Security Council initially imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and made them tougher in response to further nuclear tests and an increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile program. In 2018, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the sanctions had cut off all North Korean exports and 90% of its trade and disbanded the pool of workers which North Korea sent abroad to earn hard currency - but Pyongyang has managed to evade some measures.
China and Russia circulated a draft resolution in November urging the Security Council to end a host of sanctions against North Korea including a ban on exports of seafood and textiles, a cap on imports of refined petroleum products and a prohibition on its citizens working overseas and sending home their earnings. It stressed the economic difficulties in North Korea and said these and other sanctions should be lifted "with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population."
The North's Foreign Ministry warned of stronger action after the U.S. imposed new sanctions last week and on Thursday the official Korean Central News Agency said the country will consider restarting "all temporally-suspended activities" it had paused during its diplomacy with the Trump administration. This appeared to be a threat to resume testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles.
The news agency said North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un presided over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party where officials set policy goals for "immediately bolstering" military capabilities to counter the Americans' "hostile moves."