No U.N. Consensus On N. Korea Launch

Huddled behind doors for three hours, the U.N. Security Council tried but failed to agree to a statement regarding North Korea's missile launch. The U.S. sent its top U.N. diplomat, Ambassador Susan Rice, and China's Ambassador Yesui Zhang rushed to the closed-door session. Japan's Ambassador said the launch was a clear violation of international law.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Ambassador Rice (at left) said the North Korean launch violated the 2006 U.N. Security Council Resolution (1718) and the Security Council should act with a clear and strong response.

"We need to see where we come out. The U.S. view is that the most appropriate action would be a Security Council resolution," she added.

Making the only statement on behalf of the Council, Security Council President Claude Heller, Mexico's Ambassador to the U.N., cautioned against concluding that the Security Council would not issue a unified response and said the members had agreed to continue to meet, "considering the urgency of the matter."

Heller said there was consensus on the need for a strong statement and that the Security Council should act with unanimity.

"The DPRK (North Korea) disregarded the demands of the international community to suspend the launch," he said.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
However, hinting at the divisions on how to respond, China's Ambassador Zhang Yesui (at left) said any Security Council resolution must be "cautious and proportionate."

At issue is whether North Korea violated U.N. Resolution 1718, which bans the communist regime from conducting any ballistic missile tests.

As the emergency session began, Ambassador Rice said the U.S. would seek a "consensus" - a term which usually indicates the diplomats will be able to find find common ground, but that the final, agreed-to statement will have less teeth to it.

Security Council members will continue negotiating to reach a consensus on the launch, which will likely come either as a statement to the press, a Presidential Statement (which requires unanimous support), or a stronger Security Council resolution. Which version eventually comes will depend largely on the five permanent Council members - particularly China.

North Korea issued a statement earlier from its government-run Korean Central News Agency, saying, "The countries which find fault with (North Korea's) satellite launch, including the U.S. and Japan, launched satellites before it."

North Korea is relying on the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space as a defense for its action. Otherwise known as the "Outer Space Treaty," the document came into force in 1967.

Tanja Masson-Zwaan, Deputy Director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands told CBS News that North Korea is relying specifically on article I (2) of the treaty, which says: "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies."

The U.K. view, like the U.S. view, is that it doesn't matter if the ballistic missiles carry a communication satellite or not, but that any launch defies the U.N. ban and threatens global stability. The fact that the launch was not particularly successful, and the fact that the missile is not an immediate threat to the U.S., doesn't change that perception.
  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.

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