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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pyongyang Ambassador Summoned

APNorth Korean envoy Pak Ui Chun leaving the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.
North Korea on Wednesday test-fired a barrage of missiles, prompting an international furor and the Foreign Ministry to summon North Korea's ambassador in protest. One missile fell harmlessly in Russian waters near the Far East port of Nakhodka, just 250 kilometers from Vladivostok.

North Korea's decision to fire the seven to 10 missiles was a violation of its own seven-year moratorium on tests and threatened to lead to international action against the maverick Communist regime.

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev expressed "serious concern" to North Korean Ambassador Pak Ui Chun during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry, the ministry said.

"It was emphasized that North Korea's missile launches damage peace and stability in the region and complicate the potential for resolving the nuclear problems on the Korean Peninsula to the benefit of all interested states and the international community as a whole," it said in a statement.

The ambassador promised to "swiftly inform Pyongyang of Russia's position," it said.

The ministry last summoned him less than two weeks ago, when it became clear that Pyongyang was considering tests. It told him then that Russia opposed any threat to regional stability.

Alexeyev met earlier Wednesday with ambassadors from Japan and China, North Korea's closest ally.

Russia was not notified about the tests, the Defense Ministry said. The chief of the General Staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, said the military had tracked 10 missiles. "The fact that missiles were launched has been confirmed by our tracking systems," he told reporters.

Other governments spoke of seven missiles being test-fired, including one long-range missile that could reach the United States.

Russia's official reaction was mild compared to that of the United States and Japan. While expressing concern, Alexeyev called the launches "an ambiguous event."

Diplomats promised that Russia would take an active part in a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council that took place later in the day.

Several State Duma deputies adopted sharper rhetoric. Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called the launches "a clear provocation aimed against Russian Federation, neighboring countries and the international community." He said that "Russia's reaction should be harsh," but he stopped short of calling for sanctions, saying they would only radicalize Pyongyang.

Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, also warned against sanctions and called for a dialogue with North Korea in which Russia and China played a larger role.

Russia, China, the United States, Japan and South Korea have been engaged in talks with Pyongyang since 2003, trying to convince the government to give up its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and economic perks.

Moscow has tried to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to agree to the deal by invoking memories of Soviet-era ties with Pyongyang. President Vladimir Putin has visited North Korea once and twice played host to Kim in Russia.

Moscow's diplomatic strategy, however, has apparently proved fruitless. North Korea has taken a tough and unpredictable stance, on various occasions abruptly pulling out of talks and ditching its earlier commitments and promises.

In recent months, international concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions has eclipsed that over North Korea's.

North Korea's latest move raises the stakes, but the negotiators, particularly Russia, have little to offer to counter Pyongyang's play, said Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank.

"North Korea has not breached any major international treaty with these launches, and while the Security Council is free to discuss them, any resulting sanctions would not be legitimate," he said.

Moreover, Russia has no economic or political pull over North Korea, he said.

With the launches, North Korea has forced itself onto the agenda of next week's Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, said Daniil Kobyakov, an analyst with PIR-Center, a security think tank. He said the launches would spur negotiations with the North and that G8 leaders would need to coordinate the positions of the key players during the summit.

A Putin aide confirmed late Wednesday that North Korea's test missile launches were indeed likely to be discussed at the G8 summit.

"Without doubt ... North Korea will most likely be discussed by the leaders," Igor Shuvalov, the Russian official organizing the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, told Rossia state television.

"The leaders traditionally discuss the question of [nuclear] nonproliferation, and Korea's capabilities have significantly increased through the acquisition of ballistic missiles, and of course this question will be touched upon as part of the nonproliferation theme," Shuvalov said.