— -- Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has rejected a U.S. call to cut ties with North Korea. He said the U.S. appears to be provoking Pyongyang, one day after President Donald Trump promised to impose fresh sanctions on the country in the wake of its newest missile launch.
Russia looked negatively on U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley's call for countries to end relations with North Korea and believes that sanctions pressure is “exhausted,” according to a read-out of Lavrov's address to reporters at a security summit in Belarus, published by Russia’s foreign ministry.
Lavrov suggested recent U.S. behavior indicated it wanted to push North Korea into a war.
He accused the U.S. of misleading Russia over plans for joint-military exercises with South Korea intended to deter the North. He said that U.S. officials had privately said no exercises would be held before the spring, which Moscow hoped might bring a pause in the crisis. But the U.S has since conducted unscheduled drills twice this autumn and plans another in December.
"We have the impression that all of this is done specially so that Kim Jong Un will go off the rails and take yet another reckless step," Lavrov said, referring to North Korea’s leader. "It’s sad. If they want to find a pretext for the destruction of North Korea, as the U.S. representative stated in the U.N., let them say that straight. Then we will take a decision on how to react to that."
When Nikki Haley spoke to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, she called for countries to cut all links, including trade, with North Korea. Haley told an emergency session of the council that the latest missile launch brought the world "closer to war" and warned that the result would be that "the North Korea regime will be utterly destroyed."
Wednesday’s launch saw North Korea successfully test its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) yet, which it said was capable of striking anywhere on the U.S. mainland. The Hwasong-15 missile flew higher and longer than any of the country’s previous rockets, prompting North Korea’s government to claim it “meets the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system.”
Following the launch, Trump promised new sanctions in a tweet, saying that he had spoken to China’s leader, Xi Jingping about "the provocative actions" of North Korea.
"Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today," the post read. "This situation will be handled!"
significant sanctions have already been imposed on North Korea, after a new round was approved by the U.N. in September. Russia backed those terms, but has expressed strong opposition to further measures, arguing they will not dissuade the North Koreans and that only negotiations can solve the crisis.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin condemned the launch as a “provocative step” which “moves us away from beginning to settle the crisis.” Its spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called on all sides to “keep calm”.
Russia has several times proposed a joint plan with China that would see the U.S. and South Korea freeze military exercises in return for a halt in the missile launches.
However, Moscow has also been accused of providing life-lines to Pyongyang. In October, it was revealed that a firm affiliated with Russia’s state railways company had installed a new internet connection to North Korea, offering it greater resilience against potential U.S. cyber attacks that have been used to hamper its missile program.
A spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry this month told ABC News that Russia was meeting all of its sanctions obligations, while also working to develop its relationship with North Korea.