By Michelle Nichols
UNITEDNATIONS (Reuters) – Britain, Germany and France have asked the United Nations Security Council to meet behind closed doors on Thursday on North Korea’s latest missile launches, diplomats said.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, only days after Pyongyang launched two similar missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believed the missile launches were “just another reminder of the importance of restarting talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Ballistic missile launches by North Korea violate U.N. security council resolutions aimed at pressing the country to abandon its nuclear weapons programme and Pyongyang is subject to extensive international sanctions over its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
The tests have come despite a meeting between North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 30 at which they agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks.
Both Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea, which has been demanding relief from punishing U.S. sanctions and for Seoul and Washington to call off the joint exercises planned for this month.
Pompeo and the top U.S. North Korea negotiator are attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in the Thai capital this week, and Pompeo said he was holding out hope that U.S. officials could meet North Korean counterparts there.
North Korea has said the military drills could derail dialogue and has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly held up as evidence of the success of more than a year of engagement with Kim.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho cancelled a planned visit to the ASEAN forum, but Pompeo told reporters travelling with him the Americans were still open to a meeting and he hoped U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his new North Korean counterpart could meet soon.
Trump has continued to hail his good personal relationship with Kim and some analysts believe North Korea will be emboldened to press more aggressively for U.S. concessions by the U.S. leader’s apparent eagerness to hold up his North Korea policy as a success in his 2020 re-election bid.
On Wednesday, North Korea’s state news agency called the joint exercises “the root cause of confrontation and war,” and said a permanent halt to them was a prerequisite for improving inter-Korean relations and ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula.
It said moves by the United States and South Korea to rename the drills were simply double-dealing that proved “confrontational maniacs remain unchanged in their black-hearted intention to stifle” North Korea by force.
A top South Korean official said last month the drills would mainly involve computer simulations rather than troops in the field.
A summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February collapsed after they failed to reconcile differences between Washington’s demands for Pyongyang’s complete denuclearisation and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Susan Heavey and Susan Thomas)