North Korea, US Envoys Engage in Rare, Public Sparring Match at UN

KCNA via REUTERS/File photo
A rocket carrying a spy satellite Malligyong-1 is prepared to be launched, as North Korean government claims, in a location given as North Gyeongsang Province, North Korea in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on November 21, 2023.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations ambassadors of the United States and North Korea sparred at the Security Council on Monday 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 U.N. envoy to Security Council meetings on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in July. The 15-member body met on Monday over the Nov. 21 spy satellite launch.

At the end of the meeting, U.S. 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.

Formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea has been under U.N. 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 U.S. exercises were routine, defensive and announced in advance.

“Once again, I’d like to express sincerely our offer of dialog 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-U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.N. Security Council has been divided over how to deal with Pyongyang. Russia and China, veto powers along with the U.S., 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.