WASHINGTON—President Bush sought Thursday to persuade the presidents of China and Russia to "send one message" to North Korea by supporting proposed U.N. sanctions against the secretive one-party regime for a provocative series of missile tests.
Bush's phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao underlined the intensity of a U.S.-led diplomatic drive for a unified international response to North Korea's firing of seven missiles in defiance of worldwide opposition. North Korea on Thursday, in its first comments about the missile tests, threatened to lash out with force if any country tried to block further launches.
"The best way to solve this problem diplomatically is for all of us to be working in concert and to send one message," Bush said. "One way to send a message is through the United Nations. And the Japanese laid down a resolution, which we support."
Russia, while criticizing the launches, has openly opposed the draft U.N. Security Council resolution. It would slap sanctions on North Korea's weapons programs, declare the missile tests a threat to international peace and demand that they stop, and call for North Korea's immediate return to six-nation talks on its nuclear arms program.
"Tests of this kind cannot be considered normal ... (but they) should not lead to such emotions that would drown out common sense," Putin said in response to a question he received Thursday during an Internet conference.
China hasn't spelled out its position on the draft resolution publicly, but it reportedly joined Russia at a closed emergency Security Council session on Wednesday in favoring a non-binding statement condemning the launches.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the council was divided, but that neither Russia nor China was threatening to kill the resolution with vetoes. The two countries have veto power as permanent council members.
Bush said he was pleased with the responses he received from Putin and Hu. He mentioned his conversations with them during a news conference with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In an apparent move to encourage Moscow and Beijing to resist the sanctions resolution, North Korea warned Thursday that it would respond with forceful actions but didn't say what they would be.
"If anyone intends to dispute or add pressure about this, the DPRK will have no option but to take stronger physical actions in other forms," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the country by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"The latest successful missile launches were part of our regular military drills staged to strengthen our self-defense," the statement said.
The communist state, which asserted in February of last year that it had succeeded in building nuclear weapons, said it had the right to launch the missile tests.
North Korea made no mention of the failure of its Taepodong-2 missile, which some experts say should be able to hit Alaska and even the West Coast with a small payload. The other six were short- and medium-range missiles that splashed down harmlessly at sea.
In Japan, where the missile threat is most acutely felt, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said North Korea wasn't prepared to launch another Taepodong-2.
A U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity because the issue involved classified intelligence, said U.S. surveillance aircraft and satellites haven't detected any evidence that a second Taepodong-2 launch was imminent. More tests of short-range Scud Cs and medium-range Rodongs are possible, he said.
Diplomatic activity intensified over the crisis. China prepared to send a senior envoy to Tokyo, and the top U.S. negotiator on North Korea, Christopher Hill, headed for Beijing.
Bush said he was unsure why North Korean leader Kim Jong Il ignored calls to maintain a seven-year-old self-imposed moratorium on missile tests from his only ally, China, as well as from Russia, the United States and other countries.
Abe said Japan believes North Korea tested the missiles to coax the United States into direct talks.
Washington insists that the crisis be handled in the six-nation talks, which are aimed at persuading North Korea to accept economic and political benefits in exchange for ending its nuclear weapons programs. The talks have been stalled since November.
(Landay reported from Washington; Johnson reported from Beijing.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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