UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council on Monday unanimously condemned North Korea's long-range rocket launch nearly two weeks ago as contravening a U.N. ban, and demanded enforcement of existing sanctions against Pyongyang.
The U.S.-authored statement, agreed on Saturday by the five permanent council members and Japan, ordered a U.N. sanctions committee to begin activating financial sanctions and an arms and limited trade embargo laid down in a resolution passed two and a half years ago.
The Security Council condemns the 5 April 2009 launch by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which is in contravention of Security Council resolution 1718 of 2006, the statement said.
Some analysts say the passage of the council statement will be largely symbolic and is unlikely to result in a strict enforcement of sanctions against Pyongyang. They say much will depend on China's willingness to enforce the measures.
Britain's U.N. ambassador, John Sawers, was one of those who disagreed with this view. We are tightening the sanctions screw a notch against North Korea, he said.
Referring to the measures outlined in resolution 1718, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters the statement allows for the substantial strengthening and augmentation of that (sanctions) regime.
Rice and her Japanese counterpart, Yukio Takasu, said their countries would soon submit proposed lists of North Korean companies to be placed on a U.N. blacklist of firms aiding Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs.
The sanctions committee has not met for two years and has not designated any North Korean company to be blacklisted, diplomats say. As a result, the sanctions were not enforced.
The Security Council statement calls for the committee to undertake its tasks to this effect and designate entities and goods to be sanctioned. It adds that if the committee fails to do so by the end of the month, the council will draw up its own list.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the statement activates the sanctions regime.
Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China, the closest North Korea has to an ally in the Security Council, told reporters the statement calls upon on all countries to fully implement Security Council resolution 1718.
This is a very sensitive moment, Zhang said. What is important is for all the parties concerned to keep calm and restrained and work together for maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia.
The United States, Japan and South Korea have repeatedly said North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile, not a satellite as it insists, in violation of Security Council resolution 1718 banning such launches.
Japan had been pushing for a council resolution that would declare Pyongyang in violation of that resolution. China and Russia, which have vetoes on the council, opposed this. They were not convinced the rocket launch was a violation.
China insisted instead that the council adopt what Chinese envoy Zhang called a cautious and proportionate presidential statement, which is a formal statement of the council's position by its president. Statements must be adopted unanimously but are generally seen as weaker than resolutions.
Despite Tokyo's failure to get a resolution, Takasu said Japan is very pleased that the Security Council has adopted unanimously a very strong presidential statement.
Some analysts have questioned whether official council statements are binding like resolutions, but the U.S., British, French and Russian delegations insisted that all decisions by the council are binding, regardless of how they are issued.
Resolution 1718 was passed after a nuclear test by Pyongyang in October 2006. It forbids North Korea from launching ballistic missiles or carrying out further nuclear tests. It also bans the import or export of arms and related goods by Pyongyang.
Monday's statement demands that Pyongyang refrain from further launches and return to stalled six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program. The talks group North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.