US diplomat blasts China and Russia for ‘holding the hands’ of North Korean leader – Washington Post

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The top U.S. diplomat at the United Nations blasted Russia and China on Wednesday for “holding the hands” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as the Trump administration struggled to respond to Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile test.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley chided Moscow and Beijing over their opposition to a Security Council resolution condemning North Korea and imposing greater economic sanctions for what she called its “sharp military escalation.”

She also said Pyongyang was “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution” and suggested the United States would continue to consider military action if necessary.

“One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces,” Haley said during a Security Council meeting in New York. “We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction.”

Haley’s pointed speech marked the latest effort by the Trump administration to rally allies and rivals around a common agenda to blunt North Korea’s progress, days after Kim’s regime tested an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range that experts said would put it within reach of Alaska.

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday released this photo is says shows the successful test-fire of an intercontinental ballistic missile. (Korean Central News Agency via KNS/AFP/Getty Images)

But her remarks also illustrated the limits of the White House’s options and lacked specifics about what concrete steps the administration is considering. The missile test marks a new level of advancement in Kim’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon that could strike the continental United States. Analysts said a military confrontation could escalate quickly into a mass-casualty war across the Korean Peninsula and Japan, where the United States has stationed tens of thousands of troops.

The standoff cast a shadow as President Trump prepared for his first meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and his second with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, which opens Friday in Hamburg. Trump also will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the heads of U.S. allies Britain and Germany.

“We’ve been pretty consistent that we are never going to broadcast next steps,” deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president traveled Wednesday to a short stop in Warsaw.

Before leaving Washington, Trump revealed more frustration with Xi, whom he has personally lobbied to enact sanctions on Chinese banks that do business with North Korean companies. The U.S. Treasury Department announced last week that it would block the Bank of Dandong, along the border region between China and North Korea, from accessing U.S. markets. Officials said this was the first of potentially greater sanctions by the United States.

On Twitter, Trump wrote: “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!”

Chinese data released in April showed that China’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent during the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2016. China said then that overall trade grew even as it complied with U.N. sanctions and stopped buying North Korean coal.

South Korean army howitzers are shown Wednesday during military exercises in Paju, near the border with North Korea. (Ahn Young-Joon/AP)

Russian and Chinese diplomats used the U.N. Security Council meeting to push their joint proposal for a suspension of North Korean nuclear and missile testing in exchange for a suspension of U.S. and South Korean military exercises. Both countries also condemned the U.S. anti­missile system being deployed in South Korea and called for it to be removed.

Early Wednesday in Asia, U.S. and South Korean forces fired missiles in joint military exercises that the U.S. Pacific Command cast as a show of “ironclad” resolve.

Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations at Troy University in Seoul, said he saw no chance that Washington and Seoul would agree to halt joint exercises, calling it “a non-
starter.”

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