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China vows to veto North Korea sanctions

UNITED NATIONS – China and Russia presented the U.N. Security Council with a draft resolution Wednesday that “strongly deplores” North Korea’s July 4 missile tests. But it endorses only voluntary measures aimed at restraining Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The move threatens to head off a U.S.-backed effort to impose mandatory sanctions on North Korea and places the United States, Japan and their European allies in the difficult position of having to offer concessions to secure Beijing’s and Moscow’s support or face a certain veto of their tougher sanctions resolution.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, confirmed Wednesday that he is prepared to veto a legally binding, U.S.-backed resolution that would condemn the missile tests, demand North Korea cease launching missiles, and ban trade in nuclear or missile technology with North Korea.

Wang expressed concern that the resolution drafted by Japan and co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Greece and the Slovak Republic might ultimately serve as a pretext for military action against North Korea.

“The political position of my government is clear: that we have political difficulties with that draft,” Wang told reporters outside the council after presenting his competing resolution. “If that draft is put to a vote without any modifications, the instructions from me is to veto it.”

The diplomatic moves come as North Korea showed no signs of yielding to Chinese pressure to recommit itself to a 1999 moratorium on missile tests and resume six-nation talks aimed at ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

There is general agreement in the 15-nation council that North Korea’s launch of seven missiles, including a failed test of a Taepodong 2 missile with the capability to reach parts of Alaska and Hawaii, was a reckless act of belligerence against its neighbors, primarily Japan. But the Security Council remains divided over a response.

Despite China’s veto threat, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the Chinese and Russian initiative was “a significant step” forward. For weeks Moscow and Beijing refused to consider passage of any resolution, preferring to criticize Pyongyang’s action with a weaker, nonbinding council statement.

Bolton insisted that China and Russia make further compromises or face a vote on the U.S.-backed sanctions resolution, raising the prospect of China’s sixth veto in history. “We’re prepared to push ahead for a vote. We’ve deferred it on the basis of the high-level Chinese mission in Pyongyang,” Bolton said. “But if the resolution comes to a vote and China votes no, then that will be a decision they will have to make.”

Japan’s U.N. ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, the chief sponsor of that resolution, said the Chinese and Russian draft does not go far enough. “A quick glance at the text shows that there are very serious gaps on very important issues,” he said. “So we will study the text, but I believe it is going to be very difficult for us to accept that as it is.”

The effort to forge a unified response to North Korea’s tests has been complicated by the lingering resentment over the U.S. decision to go to war against Iraq without explicit Security Council resolution. Chinese and Russian diplomats have repeatedly noted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has influenced their decisions not to support tough resolutions on Iran and North Korea.