SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea lashed out at the United States and reportedly launched three more short-range missiles even as U.N. Security Council members debated possible new sanctions against the communist nation for its latest nuclear test.
North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles Tuesday, including one at night, from the east coast city of Hamhung, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. South Korea’s spy chief said two other missiles were launched Monday, and North Korea also warned ships to stay away from waters off its west coast through Wednesday, suggesting more test flights.
The missile launches came as leaders around the world condemned North Korea for Monday’s underground nuclear test. Retaliatory options were limited, however, and no one was talking publicly about military action.
Russian defense officials said the blast was roughly as strong as the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II and was stronger than North Korea’s first test in 2006.
In New York, U.N. diplomats said key nations were discussing a Security Council resolution that could include new sanctions against North Korea.
Ambassadors from the five permanent veto-wielding council members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – as well as Japan and South Korea were expected to meet later Tuesday, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting is private.
The Security Council met in emergency session Monday and condemned the nuclear test. Council members said they would follow up with a new legally binding resolution.
France’s deputy U.N. ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix said his government wants a resolution to “include new sanctions … because this behavior must have a cost and a price to pay.”
It was too early to say what those sanctions might be and whether China and Russia, both close allies of North Korea, will go along.
In an unusual step, China strongly reproached its close ally.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu reiterated that Beijing “resolutely opposed” the nuclear test and urged Pyongyang to return to negotiations under which it had agreed to dismantle its atomic program.
North Korea is “trying to test whether they can intimidate the international community” with its nuclear and missile activity, said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“But we are united, North Korea is isolated, and pressure on North Korea will increase,” Rice said.
Diplomats acknowledged, however, that there were limits to the international response and that past sanctions have had only spotty results.
“No one was talking about taking military action against North Korea,” John Sawers, the British ambassador to the United Nations, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “I agree that the North Koreans are recalcitrant and very difficult to hold to any agreement that they sign up to. But there is a limited range of options here.”
North Korea blamed the escalating tensions in the region on Washington, saying the U.S. was building up its forces, and defended its nuclear test as a matter of self-preservation.
An editorial in the North’s main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, called the United States “warmongers” and said Washington’s recent announcement about sending fighter planes to Japan “lay bare the sinister and dangerous scenario of the U.S. to put the Asia-Pacific region under its military control.”
At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, An Myong Han, a diplomat from the North Korean mission, said his country “could not but take additional self-defense measures including nuclear tests and the test launch of long-range missiles in order to safeguard our national interest.”
North Korea fired at least five missiles this week. Yonhap, quoting an anonymous government official, said two missiles launched Tuesday – one ground-to-air, the other ground-to-ship – had a range of about 80 miles (128 kilometers). Yonhap later quoted another government official as saying an additional ground-to-ship missile was fired late Tuesday night.
Officials would not immediately comment on the reports.