- Carol Morello, Simon Denyer The Washington Post
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday urged all countries to sever economic and diplomatic ties with North Korea, and warned Pyongyang that the regime will be "utterly destroyed" if a standoff over missile tests leads to war.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss North Korea's latest missile launch, Haley said Pyongyang had brought the world closer to war with its latest test of a ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland, its most advanced yet.
"We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it," she said. "If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday. And if war comes, make no mistake — the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed."
The Security Council meeting requested by the United States, Japan and South Korea came on a day when most countries rushed to condemn Tuesday's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile but struggled to agree on an appropriate response.
Leaders in Washington and Pyongyang delivered statements intended to jab at the other. In North Korea, a government statement said leader Kim Jong Un "declared with pride" that the country has achieved its goal of becoming a "rocket power."
President Donald Trump responded with both a stern warning that "additional major sanctions" were coming in response and, later in the day, another dose of derision. At a campaign-style rally in St. Charles, Missouri, Trump turned a scripted line about tax cuts being rocket fuel for the economy to an impromptu dig at Kim. "Little rocket man," he called Kim, and after pausing, Trump doubled down by saying, "He is a sick puppy."
Much of the day's effort went to enlisting the help of other countries to take tougher actions with North Korea.
Trump spoke by telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is an economic lifeline for North Korea. As he has before, Trump urged the Chinese leader to apply more pressure on Pyongyang. And in a tweet after the call, Trump said more punitive sanctions were around the corner.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that a "long list" of potential U.S. sanctions was being considered, including targeting financial institutions that do business with the country.
But at the Security Council, the talk was of existing sanctions and the need for more countries to enforce them.
Haley said it is possible to "further isolate, diminish, and, God willing, reverse the dangerous course of the North Korean regime," and called on all nations to "cut off all ties with North Korea."
"In addition to fully implementing all U.N. sanctions, all countries should sever diplomatic relations with North Korea and limit military, scientific, technical, or commercial cooperation," she said. "They must also cut off trade with the regime by stopping all imports and exports, and expel all North Korean workers."
She also singled out China, saying it was time for Beijing to cut off the oil supply to North Korea.
But while the ambassadors of both China and Russia, which have veto power as permanent members of the Security Council, condemned the missile launch, they urged less bellicosity.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said North Korea should stop its missile and nuclear tests, and the United States should cancel military drills scheduled for next month so as not to inflame tensions.
"We strongly call on all concerned parties to stop this spiral of tension," Nebenzia said. "It is essential to take a step back and weigh the consequences of each move."
Haley's focus on activities outside the Security Council underscored how few new diplomatic options are left to tap. An already formidable set of sanctions has been adopted and proven ineffective.
The Security Council has passed eight major sanctions resolutions on North Korea since 2006 trying to pressure North Korea to negotiate and eventually abandon its nuclear arsenal. The Trump administration has mounted a "maximum pressure" campaign to lobby other countries to do more — cut off or scale back diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, stop using North Korean laborers whose salaries go directly to their government and enforce existing U.N. sanctions on the country.
The pressure campaign has had some success. More than 20 countries have expelled North Korean diplomats or downgraded relations. China has curbed its exports of North Korean coal, a chief source of hard currency.
But there have been setbacks. As a U.N. panel noted in September, Pyongyang has expanded into new moneymaking ventures in Africa and the Middle East.
And even some European allies whose own capitals are within striking range consider the threat to themselves secondary, amid other security and foreign policy challenges bearing down on them.
China has been supportive but only to a degree. It has backed sanctions, but it remains North Korea's main trading partner and has been unwilling to take any drastic measures that might undermine the stability of the regime in Pyongyang or change its strategic calculations.
There are signs that China may be tiring of the American approach.
In an editorial in its Chinese-language edition issued Wednesday, the nationalist Global Times newspaper said this week's test was a sign that past U.S. policy toward North Korea had failed and that the approach tried under Trump had also been unsuccessful.
The United States, it said, "despised Pyongyang" and as a result had ignored North Korea's security concerns and missed an opportunity to negotiate an end to the nuclear program — instead increasing pressure, raising tensions and narrowing the space for diplomacy since Trump took office.
China's deputy U.N. ambassador told the Security Council that Beijing will implement sanctions but urged more restraint.
Wu Haitao lamented that diplomacy had accomplished so little during the window of opportunity over the past two months in which North Korea launched no missiles. "Regrettably," Wu said, "this window failed to lead to a resumption of dialogue and negotiations."