published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Russia plays down North Korea threat

MOSCOW — Russia played down North Korea’s belligerent threats Thursday, suggesting that the reclusive nation’s rhetoric may be more menacing than its actual intentions.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also signaled to Pyongyang that it should be thankful the sanctions imposed by the U.N. security Council after its recent nuclear test were not harsher.

The statements by ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko were part of an effort to coax North Korea back into compliance with international demands and six-nation talks to stem its nuclear program.

Responding to the new sanctions, North Korea vowed Saturday to step up its nuclear bomb-making program, and threatened war on any country that stops its ships on the high seas.

Nesterenko said he would not interpret those threats “in such a direct way,” though he strongly criticized the North and said there would be serious consequences if the threats were carried out.

“It prompts deep regret that a U.N. member-state so demonstratively declares its refusal to comply” with a binding Security Council resolution,” he said.

Nesterenko called the U.N. sanctions “balanced and well-considered” and suggested that Russia and China — the North’s closest allies on the Security Council — had negotiated with other members to avert tougher penalties.

“In large part thanks to the efforts of Russia and China,” he said, the sanctions resolution “does not envisage the use of military force.”

Russia and China have used their status as veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council members to soften Western-backed sanctions against North Korea in the past, but approved the new sanctions after expressing unusually strong concern over North Korea’s May 25 nuclear test and its recent missile launches.

On Wednesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed serious concern at the spiraling tension over North Korea’s actions and urged a renewal of the six-nation talks involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, which broke down months ago.

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