Groundhog Day on North Korea for Obama

The White House vowed “consequences” on Wednesday after North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket that appears to put the United States within range of a nuclear strike.

The move violates several U.N. Security Council resolutions and forces President Obama to deal with the reclusive communist nation at a time of percolating unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere.

It also gives Republicans new openings to attack the president’s leadership on national-security issues through criticism of both his outreach to North Korea and his efforts to curtail spending on missile defense.

ADVERTISEMENT
“There has and remains a path for North Korea to end its isolation, but that requires abiding by its international obligations, abiding by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at Wednesday’s press briefing. “And it has chosen not to, and therefore, there will be consequences for that. I don’t have a preview of next steps, but we take this matter very seriously … and we are not alone.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, echoed those sentiments after the U.N. Security Council condemned the launch during an emergency meeting Wednesday morning. The 15-member body is discussing how to respond, but further sanctions against North Korea are seen as unlikely because its ally China has veto power.

“Members of the Council must now work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences,” Rice told reporters. “In the days ahead, the United States will work with partners on the Security Council, as well as our partners in the Six-Party Talks and other countries in the international community, to pursue appropriate action.”

Displays of unity weren’t the order of the day on Capitol Hill, however.

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), blasted Obama’s failed “policies of appeasement” immediately after the launch was first reported. Obama’s National Security Council, by contrast, waited another three hours before putting out its statement vowing to send North Korea a “clear message.”

“The administration’s statements that we will prevent the Iranian regime from going nuclear lose all credibility when one observes how North Korea has been able to brazenly flaunt all U.N. resolutions, sanctions and appeals for restraint since 1993,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The only approach Pyongyang will understand is one of action and strength. We must reinvigorate and fortify sanctions against the regime and work even more closely with our Asia-Pacific allies through increased diplomatic and defense cooperation to contain the menace of North Korea.”

Democrats, for their part, deflected attacks on the administration by pointing out that this is hardly the first time North Korea has launched rockets in violation of U.N. resolutions and U.S. demands. North Korea first acknowledged it had nuclear weapons in 2003, during the presidency of George W. Bush, and was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2008 while the Bush administration sought and failed to pursue nuclear disarmament talks.

“It’s ‘Groundhog Day’ once again with another provocative and destabilizing act in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a top contender to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. “It will only succeed in further isolating an already isolated North Korea, and the United States, our allies and our partners will take appropriate steps to safeguard our national security.”

Others, however, said Tuesday’s launch was a game-changer because, unlike past attempts, it was successful.

“Now is not the time to continue cutting the only missile defense program that protects the American homeland — the ground-based midcourse defense system — as the Obama administration has each year it has been in office,” Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said in a statement. “It would be the height of irresponsibility to simply ignore the stated goals of the North Korean regime, and leave the American people and our allies open to attack.”

Turner told The Hill that the launch creates new urgency to develop missile defenses for the U.S. mainland.

“We should move now because all of our technology won’t be available tomorrow,” he said. “It has an implementation lag that we need to address.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Turner added that the successful test suggests technical assistance from China, despite that country’s official condemnation of Tuesday’s launch. He called on the State and Defense departments to coordinate their assessments of whether China and Russia are involved in the North Korean and the Iranian weapons programs, respectively, and to pressure them to abandon such help if it’s found to be occurring.

North Korea says it successfully put a satellite into orbit, but the U.S. and allies, including Japan and South Korea, maintain that the launches are meant to test the country’s missile technology, in violation of U.N. resolutions.

Obama has sought to rekindle denuclearization talks with North Korea since Kim Jong Un took over following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, last year. Pyongyang agreed to halt its nuclear and missile tests in February in exchange for a resumption of food aid, but the deal collapsed after the country’s failed launch of a long-range rocket in April.