Push for UN Sanctions on North Korea Hung Up on Definition of an ICBM

  • Russia says missile North Korea launched was only medium-range
  • Sanctions resolution impasse limits President Trump’s options

North Korea Isn't Backing Down

North Korea boasted that it successfully test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile on the Fourth of July, and the U.S. angrily agrees. Russia says not-so-fast, and that’s blocking action at the United Nations.

After the launch that brought Kim Jong Un’s regime closer to delivering on its vow to develop a nuclear weapon that could hit the U.S. mainland, President Donald Trump said his options included “some pretty severe things.” But the administration’s immediate effort has been a so-far frustrated pursuit of new UN sanctions.

In the latest U.S. move, Ambassador Nikki Haley held a special briefing for Security Council members on July 17 to show declassified intelligence intended to document an ICBM launch. She has said a unified international community could cut off hard currency, restrict the flow of oil and boost air and maritime restrictions on the regime in Pyongyang.

Diplomats say Russia and China, North Korea’s neighbor and top trading partner, are prepared to accept tougher sanctions on North Korea only after a nuclear test or an ICBM launch, and Russian officials say this month’s test was of a shorter-range missile.

“The parametric flight data of the ballistic target corresponds to the tactical and technical parameters of a medium-range ballistic missile,” according to a Russian statement on July 6. That position hasn’t changed.

Significant Step

Independent analysts say the North Korean launch was, at minimum, a significant step toward an ICBM.

“This missile has clearly the longer range, of the type you’d normally call an ICBM,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of Arms Control Association, said in an interview. “What’s clear is that with every test, the North Koreans are getting more information, they are learning more and their capabilities are improving. This was a leap for North Korea.”

Two U.S. officials said after the latest launch that it involved an upgraded version of North Korea’s existing road-mobile KN-17 missile, which is described by analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington as an intermediate-range ballistic missile that previously was tested successfully on May 14. Intermediate-range missiles are capable of flying 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers (1,860 to 3,400 miles).

The officials, who asked not to be identified discussing their assessments, said the North Korean missile was equipped with a booster that’s estimated to increase its range to the ICBM-class of over 5,500 kilometers. That would put Alaska, though not Hawaii or the U.S. mainland, within range of attack.

“We’re still analyzing all the details on the test,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on July 6. “It clearly had a booster, which was a new development on a previous missile.”

Read More: Here Are the Options for Dealing With North Korea

While Trump sought a positive relationship in meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in April at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the U.S. president has since said that China hasn’t done enough to control North Korea and its nuclear weapons and missile program.

The Trump administration last month took steps to penalize a Chinese bank, a Chinese shipping company and two Chinese citizens in an attempt to reduce North Korea’s access to the international financial system.

— With assistance by Anthony Capaccio

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