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Russia Summons North Korean Ambassador Over Missile Tests

Russia on Wednesday summoned the North Korean ambassador in protest of a series of missile tests, as the reclusive regime test-fired its seventh missile and sparked yet more international furor.

During the roughly half-hour meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev expressed to Ambassador Pak Ui Chun "serious concern regarding the events of July 4-5," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"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," the ministry said.

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

The ministry said in another statement that Alexeyev had met earlier with ambassadors from Japan and China — North Korea's closest ally.

It was the second time that Russia has summoned the North Korean diplomat in connection with Pyongyang's missile programs. On June 22, Moscow warned the North Korea diplomat of Russia's opposition to any steps that would affect regional stability.

Russia has worked to re-establish Soviet-era ties with Pyongyang in recent years. Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited North Korea and played host twice to its leader, Kim Jong Il.

Earlier, the ministry expressed "serious concern" over the tests, and called on Pyongyang to return to its seven-year moratorium on such launches.

"The Russian side calls on North Korea to exercise restraint and the observances of the commitments it has taken upon itself in the missile sphere, and will outline its position on the given question within the framework of international law and taking into account the task of guaranteeing regional stability," the ministry said.

The statement was issued about 16 hours after the tests and followed hours of cautious statements from Russian diplomats.

"We consider that this is an ambiguous event, and that it does not aid the six-party process," Alexeyev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

But Konstantin Kosachev, the Kremlin-linked chairman of the international affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, gave a harsher assessment.

"This is inadmissible and unacceptable. This is a clear provocation on the part of North Korean authorities, while a difficult dialogue regarding the nuclear program of North Korea is going on, while the countries of six are trying to resume the process of consultations," Kosachev said in televised comments.

"The present test is a clear challenge to the world community, an inappropriate and excessive attempt to demonstrate military force and it undoubtedly needs a serious discussion or even condemnation at the level of the U.N. Security Council."

The Foreign Ministry said that the missile test had posed a threat to international shipping in the Pacific and violated the world practice of prior warning of launches.

"The Russian side expresses serious concern over such actions that contradict the expectations of the international community," it said.

The missiles apparently fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan. ITAR-Tass reported from Tokyo that one fell about 250 150 miles from the port of Vladivostok — home to Russia's Pacific Fleet. Russian state television said that missile fell just a few dozen miles from nearby port, Nakhodka.

U.S. officials said the long-range Taepodong-2 failed shortly after being launched, calling into question the technological capability of North Korea's feared ballistic missile program. Pyongyang last fired a long-range missile in 1998.

But the audacious military exercise drew immediate, international condemnation. The White House said it was a "provocation," while Japan called a U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday and warned of economic sanctions against the impoverished, communist country.

Interfax and ITAR-Tass quoted unnamed Defense Ministry officials as saying that Russia had received no warning of the launches from North Korea, but that there were no bilateral or international agreements obligating Pyongyang to do so — in contrast to the Foreign Ministry statement on international practice.

Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia's upper house of parliament, told ITAR-Tass that North Korea "apparently wants to widen its room for maneuver in talks with the 'six,' and demonstrate once again its independence in the military and political spheres."

He expressed hope that the world community would not react with "senseless sanctions or other 'punishments.'"