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As UN Council Meets on N. Korea Missile, China With Leverage, Japan in a Box

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 5, updated -- As Japan's requested Security Council meeting on North Korea's missile shot begins in New York, the expectations raised in Tokyo constrain the action and portend disappointment. Before the missile's flight, talk on the issue around the Council centered on whether Japan could obtain new sanctions in a resolution, or might have to accept a non-binding Presidential Statement. After a week of inquiries with Council diplomats, Inner City Press has preliminarily concluded that China is the winner, if there is one, from this missile launch.

  China has a rationale to block a new sanctions resolution -- North Korea's claim that it was only a satellite, to which it has a right. China also prefers the Six Party Talks formula, which it can control better than it can the Security Council. (The same might be said of the United States.) So now that the missile has flown, what could convince China not a veto a resolution condemning North Korea?

  Diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity tell Inner City Press that China can extract explicit or implicit commitments for allowing even a watered-down resolution to get through. These might include laying off on what little pressure there has been of late on Myanmar for democratization.

In the Council, Chinese delegation holding cards

  Inner City Press at midnight on April 4 reported and uploaded Japan's letter to Council president Claude Heller, and Heller's spokesman's confirmation that the consultations would begin at 3. At 2:30, there was already a buzz outside the Council, and a crush of journalists, a high percentage of which represent Japanese media. Inner City Press is set up and will be posting updates on this site. Stay tuned.

Update of 3:09 p.m. -- as Ambassadors push through the press scrum, some stop for short statements on camera at the stakeout. France's Ripert says they're seeking unanimity. Japan's Takasu said "Thank God" actual physical damage wasn't done. U.S. Ambassador Rice takes no questions, the UK's Karen Pierce rushes straight into the chamber. China is off-stage, holding the cards...

   A Western diplomat tells Inner City Press that no resolution is possible today, because they'd have to check with capitals. At most, a non-binding statement, and perhaps not even that.

Update of 4:20 p.m. -- a Western diplomat emerging from the Council's consultations tells the fast-assembling press "we're about half done." The crowd scatters to report it, or at least to phone it in. This is what passes for news. The prediction remains, a weak statement. Call it, tepid on Taepadong. Or, and consider this one copyrighted upon the writing, Tepidong!

Update of 4:59 p.m. -- spokespeople for Japan and China are tight-lipped; Western diplomats also have little to say. There's little to do except... count the media! Twenty four cameras on the raised level above the stake, a few more behind velvet ropes between the elevators and the Council. Sixty-some journalists and photographers at the stakeout, with wall outlet space at a premium. One reporter says this is the most crowded she's seen the stakeout since she's been here, including Georgia, Gaza and Kosovo. Another chimes it, there were more for the Israel - Lebanon conflict in 2006. And that coverage wasn't so Japan top-heavy...

Update of 5:09 p.m. -- Ban Ki-moon chief of staff Vijay Nambiar has emerged and left. A Western diplomat whispers that all they've gotten is "elements of a press statement" -- the weakest of the three forms of Council action. We said it first: Tepidong!

Update of 5:15 p.m. -- as more Western diplomats come out speaking of "elements of a press statement," Inner City Press coins a new category of action: "fragrance of notes for a press statement." All of this for us?

Update of 5:19 p.m. -- as the bell calls Council members back to consultation, finally a Western diplomat says it: China has said that a press statement -- the weakest form of Council action -- is the "appropriate" response to what North Korea did. Another adds that Japan still wants a resolution. And so, full circle: what could be given to China to move in that direction, later in the week?

Update of 5:31 p.m. -- with the Council members back in consultations on the press statement, the spin being sold to Japanese and South Korean media emerges: the things are on track, on a two stage response, press statement today, resolution later. But has China agreed to any second stage? Or has China stated, as one Western diplomat in the meeting quoted, that "a press statement is the appropriate response" to what DPRK did? If so, the second stage is a chimera, a bone for some countries' public opinion. In this scenario, when no second stage takes place, what then?

  Click here for a new YouTube video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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