After Launch, Obama Focuses On Disarmament

Posted in United States , Koreas | 06-Apr-09 | Author: Michael D. Shear and Colum Lyn| Source: Washington Post

S President Barack Obama speaks at Hradcany Square near Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic. Obama pledged Sunday to lead a quest for a world purged of nuclear weapons, denouncing "fatalism" over proliferation and calling for North Korea to be punished for its rocket launch.

ANKARA, Turkey, April 6 -- President Obama arrived in Turkey on Sunday night as global condemnation of North Korea gave way to intense diplomatic debate about how to punish the rogue nation for the brazen weekend launch of a rocket over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

As Obama prepared to address the Turkish parliament Monday, the U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session. Despite the urging of the United States and Japan, the 15-member council could not agree on a statement criticizing North Korea's rocket launch. China and Russia said they were not yet convinced that Pyongyang had violated any U.N. rules, according to council officials.

The council adjourned after three hours and agreed to continue negotiations on a resolution in the coming days. "Every state has the right to the peaceful use of outer space," said Russia's deputy U.N. envoy, Igor Shcherbak.

"I think we are now in a very sensitive moment," Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters after the meeting. "Regarding the reaction of the Security Council, our position is that it has to be cautious and proportionate."

The launch, and the concerns it raised, threatened to overshadow Obama's first visit to a Muslim country as president, during which he will meet with the Turkish president and prime minister and pay homage to the country's culture with visits to its most important monuments and mosques.

In Prague on Sunday, Obama condemned the North Korean launch as a "provocative" act and used the incident as a fresh reminder of the world's dangers. He promised a broad new government effort to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and eventually rid the world of them.

Speaking in Hradskany Square, a hilltop plaza outside Prague Castle, just hours after the launch, Obama announced that he would immediately seek U.S. ratification of a ban on nuclear testing, convene a summit in Washington to stop the spread of nuclear material within four years and advocate for a nuclear fuel bank to allow peaceful development of nuclear power.

"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something," he said after referencing the North Korean launch. "The world must stand together to stop the spread of these weapons."

The Sunday launch sent a three-stage Taepodong-2 missile from a base on North Korea's east coast over the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, crossing Japanese airspace on the way. Japanese radar lost contact with the rocket when it was about 1,300 miles east of Japan.

About four hours after the launch, North Korea said that it had put a communications satellite into orbit and that it was transmitting patriotic music, including a celebratory tune about North Korea's leader titled "Song of General Kim Jong Il."

The United States and South Korea, however, said that the satellite had not reached orbit. The U.S. military's Northern Command said on its Web site that "the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean."

North Korea claimed in 1998, when it launched a Taepodong-1 missile, that it had succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit and that it also transmitted patriotic songs. The U.S. government later said that assertion was false.

Regardless of the fate of the satellite, the launch showed North Korea's significant progress in rocket engineering, compared with the failed test in 2006 of the same kind of missile, analysts said. That year, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

But North Korea remains years away from building a missile that can reach the U.S. mainland and from designing a nuclear warhead small enough to be transported on such a missile, the analysts said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the foreign ministers of Japan, China and Russia on Sunday morning to confer about the launch. Later, she and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg presented a statement condemning the missile launch to foreign ministers attending a European Union-U.S. lunch. The statement was approved.

Analysts said the launch was an unwelcome problem for the Obama administration.

"This really is a complication they wish they hadn't had," said Jack Pritchard, who was special envoy to North Korea in the first term of President George W. Bush. He added that the new administration had hoped to resume six-nation talks over North Korea's nuclear program but that Pyongyang now would probably drop out, citing the international reaction to the launch.

Diplomats said they expect a lengthy negotiation over a formal response to the crisis. The United States, France and Britain favor a resolution condemning the North Korean launch as a violation of Security Council Resolution 1718, a 2006 agreement that bans Pyongyang from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles. The new resolution also calls for stronger enforcement of a travel ban and an asset freeze on officials involved with the rocket program.

Japan, which feels most threatened by the launch, is pressing for a tougher reaction, including unspecified additional sanctions. U.S. diplomats have made it clear that they want a measured response, including the imposition of some penalty, but one that leaves the door open to the resumption of the six-party talks.

A Senate official said that "we're entering into a very rough period" with North Korea, in which that country would suspend its cooperation with the multilateral talks, perhaps expel international nuclear inspectors and possibly start reassembling nuclear facilities that had been dismantled.

Still, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter openly, said: "The key here, in terms of response to the missile, is to keep our eye on the ultimate objective, which is a Korean Peninsula that is at peace and nuclear-free. . . . We should not have an overreaction to this missile test, because it does us no good to have the denuclearization process set back just because of this satellite launch attempt."

The launch served as a reminder of the difficulty in restraining nations from developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

"I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said to a crowd of about 20,000 in the Czech Republic's capital.

Using the former Soviet satellite as a backdrop, Obama effectively made nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of his rapidly evolving foreign policy, reviving an issue that has lain mostly dormant since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and, before that, the end of the Cold War.

Last week, Obama announced plans to negotiate a new arms-reduction treaty with Russia by the end of this year. But the proposals he outlined Sunday go beyond that announcement. The president called nuclear weapons the "most dangerous legacy" of the Cold War era and committed himself to a long campaign to rid the world of them.

Obama made no mention of some related campaign promises, including taking nuclear weapons off a hair-trigger alert. He also left details of his anti-nuclear program unclear.

During the campaign, Obama promised to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as soon as practical, but he pledged Sunday to "immediately and aggressively" seek ratification of the treaty in the Senate. Obama aides provided no details about how the president might sway senators, who rejected it in 1999.

Many Czechs in the crowd appeared to approve of Obama's pledge to more aggressively pursue nuclear disarmament and of his promises to engage in more dialogue with foes of the United States, such as Iran.

"It was a historical moment, to have him speak here," said Michaela Dombrovska, 32, of Prague. "He's given us hope that America will lead us to more world peace. He's clearly thought up new and different ideas about how to get rid of nuclear weapons in an effective way."

At the same time, some cringed when Obama recommitted his administration to the Pentagon's global missile-defense shield as long as Iran poses a nuclear threat. A crucial component of the missile shield -- a radar tracking system -- would be based outside Prague under the terms of a treaty signed by the Czech government and the Bush administration in July. But polls show that about 70 percent of Czechs are against the shield, and opponents have blocked the Czech Parliament from ratifying the agreement.

Several hundred marched against the missile shield plans through central Prague after Obama's speech. They carried balloons and placards, including one that read, "Yes We Can -- Say No to Missile Shield."

Lynch reported from the United Nations. Staff writers Blaine Harden in Tokyo, Mary Beth Sheridan in Washington and Craig Whitlock in Prague contributed to this report.