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2009-04-06

UN Security Council Fails to Reach Agreement on North Korea Rocket Launch

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John Feffer, Co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council Sunday failed to agree to a joint statement regarding North Korea’s rocket launch over the weekend. The United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union accused the North Korean regime of breaching UN resolutions that ban the country from carrying out ballistic missile activity and called for a strong and unified response. Speaking in the Czech Republic Sunday, President Obama said North Korea had "broken the rules" and called for new United Nations sanctions. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council Sunday failed to agree to a joint statement regarding North Korea’s rocket launch over the weekend. The United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union accused the North Korean regime of breaching UN resolutions that ban the country from carrying out ballistic missile activity and called for a strong and unified response. China and Russia, however, urged a more cautious response.

Speaking in the Czech Republic Sunday, President Obama said North Korea had, quote, "broken the rules" and called for new United Nations sanctions.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.

AMY GOODMAN: The long-range rocket flew over Japan, and North Korean officials hailed the test as a success. Even as Japanese and South Korean officials condemned the launch, experts say the effort to launch a satellite into orbit is a failure, with the missile landing in the Pacific Ocean.

For some analysis on North Korea’s rocket launch, I’m joined now from Washington, D.C. by John Feffer. He is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His books include North Korea/South Korea: US Policy at a Time of Crisis and The Future of US-Korean Relations.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, John. Talk about the significance of this launch.

JOHN FEFFER: Well, it’s quite significant, in the sense that there’s been enormous international reaction to it. North Korea is not exactly on the top of the priority list for the Obama administration, and North Korea is trying to figure out how to get closer to the top. It’s launched this in part to get the attention of the United States and in part, of course, to get a satellite into orbit, which it seemed that it was incapable of doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about exactly what was launched, was it a failure, and what this means for the world.

JOHN FEFFER: Well, it was described by the international community largely as a missile. North Korea claimed it was a satellite. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two, and we’re still trying to figure out what exactly did — was launched by North Korea. Essentially, we’re talking about the same kind of launch vehicle, but the payload and the trajectory are different. It looks as though whatever was sent up fell into the Pacific, even though North Korea claims that it put a satellite into orbit.

The importance here is that North Korea can collect some information for its missile program, but by forgoing the opportunity of testing a real missile — in other words, by strictly abiding by the UN resolution — it misses out on some critical information that it could use for its missile program. So it looks as though North Korea is trying to tread that fine line: gather some information that could be useful for its military program, and yet, at least according to it, abiding by international regulations. It, for instance, signed international protocols regarding satellites and exploration of outer space. It gave proper notification. So, North Korea is clearly interested in still reaching out, working with, engaging with the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: Could this lead to war, John Feffer?

JOHN FEFFER: I don’t think it could lead to war. Of course, North Korea said that if the United States or Japan tried to shoot down its rocket, that would be an act of war. Fortunately, the United States said it wasn’t going to try to do that, and Japan did not attempt to do that. It has said that if South Korea joins the Proliferation Security Initiative, it will consider that an act of war. And South Korea will probably make that decision this week.

Nevertheless, I would say that all the countries concerned are not interested in going to war. They all know the consequences, which would be enormous, enormous casualties on the Korean Peninsula. So the countries concerned know that war is just a terrible option, and that includes North Korea. North Korea knows it’s completely outgunned, outmanned, outclassed in its military situation there in Northeast Asia. So none of the countries really want to go to war.

Nevertheless, as we know, war doesn’t always happen according to plan, often happens spontaneously. And so, we do have a situation in Northeast Asia which is very tense and could eventually lead to some greater escalation.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, John, will this derail the six-party talks? And what do you think of President Obama’s response?

JOHN FEFFER: Well, the six-party talks are not exactly in the best situation right now. They’ve been stymied for a couple of months over some disagreements, over verification, over delivery of energy, over dismantlement. I think those are problems that can be dealt with, but you have to get everyone to the table first.

You might remember back in October 2006, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, and there was international condemnation. But actually, just a few weeks later, you saw a reversal in the Bush administration policy toward North Korea, and the six-party talks actually got back on track, and you saw some dramatic movement forward. I would like to believe that we’ll see a similar situation here: dramatic international condemnation followed by the six-party talks again going back on schedule.

The Obama’s administration, I think that its decision not to take military action against this rocket launch was absolutely appropriate response. However, I think that the administration shouldn’t have taken this rocket launch quite so seriously as a national security threat. It should, in fact, look for opportunities to diplomatically solve this problem. It can work closer with Russia and China, who are very skeptical of treating this in a dramatic way. And it has to really corral its allies, South Korea and Japan, get them back on track, get the negotiations started again in the six-party talks.

AMY GOODMAN: John Feffer, I want to thank you for being with us, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

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