UNITED NATIONS: The United States led a push at the UN Security Council Wednesday for tougher sanctions on North Korea after its watershed test of an intercontinental ballistic missile which Kim Jong-Un dubbed a gift to "American bastards."
After US and South Korean forces fired off missiles simulating a precision strike against North Korea´s leadership in response to Tuesday´s test, the focus shifted to diplomacy at an emergency Security Council session.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington was working on a draft resolution imposing new sanctions on Kim´s regime, calling the ICBM launch a "sharp military escalation" that made "the world a more dangerous place."
"In the coming days, we will bring to the Security Council a resolution that is proportionate to North Korea´s escalation," she told the meeting.
While the launch narrowed the possibility of a diplomatic solution, Haley said the US wanted to avoid military confrontation and its focus was on how to tighten up sanctions, identifying China´s role as key.
"Much of the burden of enforcing UN sanctions rests with China. Ninety percent of trade with North Korea is from China," she said.
"We will work with China -- we will work with any and every country that believes in peace -- but we will not repeat the inadequate approaches of the past that have brought us to this dark day."
The new sanctions could target countries that continue to trade with North Korea, curb oil exports to North Korea, tighten air and maritime restrictions and impose travel bans on North Korean officials, Haley said.
Tuesday´s launch -- acknowledged as an intercontinental ballistic missile by Washington -- marked a milestone in Pyongyang´s decades-long drive for the capability to threaten the US mainland with a nuclear strike, and poses a stark foreign policy challenge for Donald Trump.
While the US push for new sanctions won backing from France, it may well run into Chinese opposition, and raised immediate protests from fellow permanent Security Council member Russia.
"All must acknowledge that sanctions will not resolve the issue," Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the emergency session, while also warning a military option was "inadmissible."
"China has always been firmly opposed to chaos and conflict on the Korean peninsula. Military means must not be an option in this regard," said Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi.
China again put forward its proposal for opening talks based on a freeze of North Korea´s missile and nuclear tests in exchange for a halt to US-South Korean military drills.
Six sets of sanctions
The US president had dismissed the idea of the North possessing a working ICBM, vowing it "won´t happen", but experts said the missile could reach Alaska or even further towards the continental US.
Trump has recently used a series of Twitter outbursts to criticize China, the North´s sole major ally and economic lifeline, over its failure to rein in the nuclear-armed state.
In the latest sign of growing friction in US-China relations he lashed out at Beijing on Twitter Wednesday, pointing to a surge in its trade with North Korea as evidence that US reliance on Beijing to pull rank on Pyongyang was misplaced.
The Security Council adopted two sanctions resolutions last year to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang and deny Kim the hard currency needed to fund his military programs.
Those resolutions provided for significant curbs on North Korea´s coal exports, a major source of revenue, restrictions on banking and mandatory searches of all cargo to and from North Korea.
In all, six sets of sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.
Frank Aum, a former advisor on North Korea at the US defense department, said more sanctions were seen by the US administration as its only realistic option.
"I don´t think the Trump administration sees any other options. The don´t really believe in negotiations at this point. They feel like they need to apply greater financial pressure," said Aum.
Amid international condemnation of the test, South Korean and US military forces launched short-range ballistic missiles of their own into the Sea of Japan less than 24 hours after.