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Tillerson Urges U.N. Security Council To Take Action On North Korea


On day 99 of the Trump administration, North Korea fires another test missile. It was reportedly an unsuccessful test, but the effort only heightens the tension between that country and the U.S. Earlier today came a dire warning from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.


REX TILLERSON: The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.

SHAPIRO: Tillerson was chairing a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York. He urged council members, particularly China, to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. NPR's Michele Kelemen has details.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Trump administration has been raising alarm all week about the advancements in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Secretary Tillerson is now urging his colleagues on the U.N. Security Council to move quickly or face what he calls catastrophic consequences.


TILLERSON: We must be willing to face the hard truths and make hard choices right now to prevent disastrous outcomes in the future. Business as usual is not an option.

KELEMEN: Tillerson says he'd like to see countries downgrade or suspend diplomatic relations with North Korea and fully implement the sanctions already on the books. He says China accounts for 90 percent of North Korean trade, so it has what Tillerson calls unique leverage. China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, told the council it is not realistic to rely on his country alone. He spoke through an interpreter.


WANG YI: (Through interpreter) China is not a focal point of problem on the peninsula, and the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side.

KELEMEN: The Chinese foreign minister blasted the U.S. for deploying an anti-missile system in South Korea, and he revived his country's longstanding proposal - a freeze of North Korean missile and nuclear tests in exchange for a freeze of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises.


WANG: (Through interpreter) We must stay committed to the path of dialogue and negotiation. The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters. As the only way out, dialogue and negotiation also represent the sensible choice for all parties.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. is ready for direct dialogue but only if the agenda is clear - the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He says the Trump administration doesn't want to reward North Korea's bad behavior, adding that if the Security Council had implemented past resolutions, there wouldn't be so much tension today. Tillerson issued a veiled threat to those who don't implement sanctions.


TILLERSON: The United States also would much prefer countries and people in question to own up to their lapses and correct their behavior themselves. But we will not hesitate to sanction third country entities and individuals supporting the DPRK's illegal activities.

KELEMEN: While the Trump administration is trying to heighten the sense of urgency, China is calling for a cooling down of the temperature and less provocative rhetoric. So, too, it seems is U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who points out that since January of last year, there have been 11 emergency Security Council meetings, two North Korean nuclear tests and more than 30 missile tests.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: I'm alarmed by the risk of military escalation in the region, including by miscalculation or misunderstanding.

KELEMEN: Like many other diplomats in the room, the secretary general said he'd like to see channels of communication reopen and soon. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.