UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council on Monday condemned North Korea's latest ballistic missile launches as a violation of council resolutions and a threat to regional and international security.
Pyongyang fired seven missiles into the Sea of Japan on Saturday -- the U.S. July 4 Independence Day -- in an apparent act of defiance of Washington, which has cracked down on firms suspected of helping the North in its arms and missiles trade.
The launches also alarmed Japan and South Korea, which are within range of North Korean missiles. Japan -- currently an elected council member -- said it had requested Monday's meeting of the 15-nation body.
The members of the Security Council condemned and expressed grave concern at the launches, which constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to regional and international security, council president Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda said.
North Korea, which was banned from ballistic missile launches in a Security Council resolution passed last month, must comply fully with its obligations, Rugunda said in an oral statement read to journalists.
Security Council members appealed to all parties to refrain from any action that could aggravate the security situation in the region, he added.
Oral statements, which are not entered into the official record of Security Council proceedings, are the lowest level of council utterance. Western diplomats said they would have liked something more formal but were anxious to win the agreement of China, the closest Pyongyang has to an ally on the council.
Council statements have to be unanimous and for China, only an oral statement would work, one diplomat said, adding that during discussions Chinese officials appeared quite nervous about how far the statement would go.
North Korea appears to have fired two mid-range Rodong missiles, which can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, and five shorter-range Scud missiles, which can strike most of South Korea, South Korean officials told reporters.
CARGO SHIP RETURNING
Japan's U.N. ambassador, Yukio Takasu, called Monday's statement appropriate but refused to speculate on what the council might do if North Korea ignores its message.
In the resolution passed last month, the Security Council expanded previous U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang in response to a May 25 nuclear test by the isolated communist state.
A U.N. sanctions committee is working on blacklisting more North Korean companies and individuals for supporting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. It is meant to complete its task by Friday.
A North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying banned arms was expected to return home on Monday after a voyage that was tracked by the U.S. Navy and tested the U.N. sanctions, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said.
The return of the Kang Nam, which set sail in mid-June, could ease tensions raised by the missile launches. South Korean dailies said it was headed for the North's port of Nampo after a journey that took it close to Myanmar.
A U.S. envoy coordinating the enforcement of U.N. sanctions on the North held talks in Malaysia with officials. South Korean dailies said they discussed possibly shutting down bank accounts used by the North for suspected illicit deals.
The Obama administration has uncovered suspicious North Korean bank accounts in Malaysia, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper quoted a diplomatic source in Washington as saying.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said: We are not going to act on every accusation that is being leveled at us ... but if they have evidence we will be most willing to work together to solve this problem.
A U.S. Treasury official who tracks illicit international financing will have talks in China this week on ways to crack down on companies involved in North Korea's purchases of equipment for its nuclear arms program.
Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, will hold meetings from Wednesday to Friday with officials and private sector executives in mainland China and Hong Kong, the Treasury said on Monday.
The U.N. sanctions are aimed at halting Pyongyang's arms trade, a vital source of foreign currency for the cash-short state. They also call on states to clamp down on the North's suspected arms shipments.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Christine Kim in Seoul and Razak Ahmad in Kuala Lumpur; editing by Mohammad Zargham)