MOSCOW – World powers must be firm with a belligerent North Korea but also take care to avoid inflaming tensions further, Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday.
The world "must not rush to punish North Korea just for punishment's sake," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that Russia wants a U.N. Security Council resolution that will help restart stalled six-nation talks over North Korea's nuclear programs and will not provoke Pyongyang into even more aggressive activity.
North Korea on Monday conducted an underground nuclear test very close to the Russian border. Russia's military said its yield was comparable to the bombs that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though other estimates have pointed to a smaller blast.
"The Security Council must speak out firmly, and must work out measures that in practice would help prevent the further dissolution of the nuclear nonproliferation regime," Lavrov told reporters. "We must also find in this resolution a way to create conditions for the renewal of the six-nation talks."
Lavrov said the U.S. and Japan have informed Security Council members they plan to submit a draft resolution. He discussed the basic principles of the resolution with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by telephone Tuesday.
The Kremlin has condemned North Korea, a Soviet-era ally, in unusually strong language, but Lavrov's remarks were in line with Russia's repeated warnings that punishing Pyongyang too severely is likely to be counterproductive.
Russian officials have suggested a new Security Council resolution would likely include sanctions, but Lavrov's comments left it unclear what kind of measures Russia — a permanent, veto-wielding council member — would support.
"I repeat again, we must stand up for the nonproliferation regime and at the same time we must not forget that problems can be resolved only through talks," Lavrov said.
He said that North Korea does not bear sole blame for the collapse of the six-nation talks several months ago, suggesting that actions by other nations had pushed Pyongyang into recalcitrance. The parties to the talks are the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed in a phone call Wednesday that North Korea's nuclear test directly violated an existing Security Council resolution and said their countries would participate actively in developing the new resolution, the Kremlin said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it voiced "serious concern" about the nuclear test to the North Korean ambassador and urged Pyongyang to respect the U.N. resolutions and return to the six-nation talks.