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North Korea, US envoys engage in rare, public sparring match at UN

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The United Nations ambassadors of the United States and North Korea sparred at the Security Council on Monday (27 November) over Pyongyang’s first spy satellite launch and the reasons for growing tensions in a rare, direct, public exchange between the adversaries.

After a nearly six-year absence, North Korea again started sending its UN envoy to Security Council meetings on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in July. The 15-member body met on Monday over the 21 November spy satellite launch.

North Korea said it successfully placed its first spy satellite in orbit on Tuesday and vowed to launch more in the near future.

The United States and South Korea have condemned the satellite launch as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning any use of ballistic technology.

At the end of the meeting, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and North Korean Ambassador Kim Song made unplanned remarks, engaging in dueling rights-of-reply across the council table, each arguing that their countries are acting defensively.

“One belligerent party, the United States, is threatening us with a nuclear weapon,” Kim told the council.

“It is legitimate right for the DPRK – as another belligerent party – to develop, test, manufacture and possess weapons systems equivalent to those that the United States already possess and, or (are) developing right now,” he said.

The armistice of 1953 that put an end to the 3-year-long Korean War was signed by representatives of the US (representing the UN command), North Korea and China. Despite the truce, technically North Korea and South Korea are still at war. North Korea keeps calling the US “belligerent party”.

Formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea has been under UN sanctions for its ballistic missile and nuclear programs since 2006. This includes a ban on the development of ballistic missiles.

Such technology was used to launch the satellite last week and follows the testing of dozens of ballistic missiles over the past 20 months. The United States has long warned that Pyongyang was ready to carry out a seventh nuclear test.

“We reject strongly the disingenuous DPRK claim that its missile launches are merely defensive in nature, in response to our bilateral and trilateral military exercises,” said Thomas-Greenfield, adding that the US exercises were routine, defensive and announced in advance.

“Once again, I’d like to express sincerely our offer of dialogue without preconditions, the DPRK only needs to accept,” she said.

Denuclearization talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, the United States, Russia and Japan stalled in 2009. Talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019 also failed.

Kim said that until “the persistent military threat” was eliminated, North Korea would continue to strengthen its capabilities. Thomas-Greenfield said North Korea’s actions were based on paranoia about a possible US attack.

“If there’s anything the United States wants to provide to the DPRK, that is humanitarian assistance for your people and not weapons to destroy your people,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

For the past several years the UN Security Council has been divided over how to deal with Pyongyang. Russia and China, veto powers along with the US, Britain and France, have said more sanctions will not help and want such measures to be eased.

China and Russia say joint military drills by the United States and South Korea provoke Pyongyang, while Washington accuses Beijing and Moscow of emboldening North Korea by shielding it from more sanctions.

North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong Un had reviewed spy satellite photos of the White House, Pentagon and US aircraft carriers at the naval base of Norfolk.

So far, Pyongyang has not released any imagery, leaving analysts and foreign governments to debate how capable the new satellite actually is.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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