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The Latest: South Korea says North close to ‘weaponization’

December 15, 2017

Mark Field, British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, second from left, American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, third from left, and South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Hyun, right, listen as North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations Ja Song Nam, bottom left, speaks during a high level Security Council meeting on North Korea, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Latest on the U.N.’s ministerial meeting on North Korea (all times local):

3:25 p.m.

South Korea’s vice foreign minister says North Korea is “in the final stages of nuclear weaponization” and is urging the international community to grasp the urgency of the threat this poses and find ways to halt its nuclear program.

Cho Hyun warned a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that if North Korea can put a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile “it will fundamentally alter the security landscape in the region and beyond.”

He called for a united answer of “absolutely no” to North Korean attempts to be recognized as a nuclear-weapons state.

At the same time, Hyun said the goal must be denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and “we should not be provoked into conflict nor should we shut the doors of dialogue and peace.”

He stressed that “in our race against North Korea, we need to do more — way, way more” to counter North Korea’s “evasive tactics” to avoid U.N. sanctions which he said are becoming more sophisticated.

Hyun called for redoubled efforts to implement and fill in all gaps in U.N. sanctions in order to bring the North Koreans to the negotiating table.

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2:45 p.m.

North Korea’s U.N. ambassador is calling the U.N. Security Council’s ministerial meeting on its escalating nuclear and missile programs “a desperate measure plotted by the U.S. being terrified” by Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities.

Ja Song Nam, in a very rare appearance at the council by a North Korean, said Friday that his country’s possession of nuclear weapons “was an inevitable self-defensive measure to defend our sovereignty and rights to existence and development from the U.S. nuclear threat and blackmail.”

He said “if anyone is to blame for it, the U.S. is the one who must be held accountable.”

Ja also strongly criticized Japan, which holds the Security Council presidency this month, for making “evil use” of the opportunity to hold the ministerial meeting.

He accused the council of acting as a tool of the United States instead of maintaining its impartiality.

Ja said North Korea has sent 11 letters to the council since 2014 asking for an emergency meeting on U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which he called a serious threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

Instead of responding, the ambassador said the council has adopted 11 sanctions resolutions against North Korea.

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2:20 p.m.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador is questioning the U.S. commitment to peace on the Korean peninsula, saying 2 1/2 months of quiet from North Korea was answered by Washington and its allies with unscheduled large-scale military exercises, unilateral sanctions, and a declaration that the North sponsors terrorism.

Vassily Nebenzia told a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that “all of these steps force us to wonder about the sincerity of statements that suggest that there is a preference for a peaceful approach to resolving the crisis” by the United States.

He said North Korea won’t halt its nuclear and missile programs “while it feels a direct threat to its security.”

Nebenzia urged practical steps to de-escalate the situation, including cancellation of planned U.S.-South Korean exercises and a halt to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

Nebenzia also responded to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s accusation that Russia allows North Korean laborers to toil in “slave-like conditions” for wages used to fund nuclear weapons.

He retorted that North Koreans aren’t working in Russia “in slave-like conditions” but under an agreement with Pyongyang “that guarantees their rights.”

Nebenzia also criticized unilateral sanctions against the North, which the U.S. has imposed, saying they hamper a political settlement, damage third parties, and hurt the civilian population.

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1:30 p.m.

China’s deputy U.N. ambassador is pushing back against U.S. insistence that the Asian country holds the key to resolving North Korea’s escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Wu Haitao told a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that “the current situation on the (Korean) Peninsula is not caused by any one party alone, and it is not possible to impose on any one party the responsibility of solving the problem.”

Wu said: “The parties concerned should move towards each other instead of engaging in rhetoric blaming, and not shift responsibility to others.”

He also criticized unilateral sanctions against North Korea — which the U.S., European Union, Japan and others have imposed — saying they undermine Security Council unity “and should be abandoned.”

Wu said “the hope for peace is not totally obliterated” and urged all parties to “keep in mind the big picture of maintaining peace and stability” and end rhetoric that exacerbates tensions.

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12:30 p.m.

Japan’s foreign minister is urging the international community to maximize pressure on North Korea “by all means available,” saying there is no other way to get Pyongyang to curb its escalating nuclear and missile programs.

Taro Kono announced at a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that Japan has ordered the assets of 19 North Korean entities to be frozen, and he called on other countries to introduce or strengthen sanctions against the North.

Kono said last week’s visit to Pyongyang by U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman “only reconfirmed the dire reality” that North Korea “is nowhere near ready” to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, “nor is it interested in returning to a meaningful dialogue.”

He urged the Security Council not to backtrack from the demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear and missile programs “in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”

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