Putin warns of ‘global catastrophe’ in N Korea impasse

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of a global “catastrophe” unless a diplomatic solution over North Korea is reached, saying imposing further sanctions on North Korea would be useless.

Mr Putin’s comments, following an international summit in China, came after the United States called for the “strongest possible measures” against North Korea for detonating what it called a hydrogen bomb on Sunday.

The announcement and North Korea’s claim that it could mount the warhead on a missile dramatically upped the stakes in the reclusive state’s standoff with the international community over its banned weapons programmes.

Mr Putin said Russia “condemns” North Korea’s actions as “provocative”.

“But resorting to just any sanctions in this situation is useless and inefficient,” he told reporters in the Chinese city of Xiamen following the annual summit of the five-nation BRICS club of emerging economies.

Mr Putin called for dialogue on the crisis and warned against other actions that could cause the situation to escalate.

“All of this can lead to a global planetary catastrophe and a great number of victims,” he said.

South Korean officials believe more provocation from the North is possible, despite international outrage over Sunday’s test and calls for more sanctions on North Korea.

South Korea’s Asia Business Daily, citing an unidentified source, reported that North Korea had been spotted moving a rocket that appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) towards its west coast.

The rocket started moving yesterday and was spotted moving only at night to avoid surveillance, the report said.

South Korea’s defence ministry, which warned yesterday that North Korea was ready to launch an ICBM at any time, said it was unable to confirm the contents of the report.

North Korea tested two ICBMs in July that could fly about 10,000km, putting many parts of the US mainland within range. The tests prompted a new round of international sanctions.

Yesterday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “begging for war” and urged the 15-member UN Security Council to impose the “strongest possible” sanctions to deter him and shut down his trading partners.

US President Donald Trump held calls with foreign leaders, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the White House declared that “all options to address the North Korean threat are on the table”.

South Korea is talking to the US about deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the Korean peninsula, and has been ramping up its own defences in the meantime.

Mr Moon and Mr Trump agreed to scrap the warhead weightlimit on South Korea’s missiles, South Korea’s presidential office said, enabling it to strike North Korea with greater force in the event of a military conflict.

The White House said Mr Trump gave “in-principle approval” to the move.

“We believe the unlimited warhead payload will be useful in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing this morning.

Under the current guidelines, last changed in 2012, South Korea can develop missiles up to a range of 800km with a maximum payload of 500kg.

South Korea’s navy also held more drills today.

“Today’s training is being held to prepare for maritime North Korean provocations, inspect our navy’s readiness and to reaffirm our will to punish the enemy,” an unidentified South Korean naval officer told the same defence ministry briefing.

Speaking at the United Nations, Ms Haley said the US would circulate a new Security Council resolution on North Korea this week and wanted a vote on it on Monday.

“War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited. We will defend our allies and our territory,” Ms Haley said.