Russia's top diplomat downplayed North Korea's nuclear saber-rattling following a diplomatic summit Tuesday, and said the United States has to take "prudent" steps to deescalate the crisis.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that North Korea always complains about sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The regime threatened a "physical" response to the new sanctions and warned South Korea it has the ability turn "Seoul into a sea of flame," but Lavrov betrayed little alarm.
"Strictly speaking, this is how representatives of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have reacted to all previous U.N. Security Council resolutions," he told reporters Tuesday following an east Asia diplomatic summit in the Philippines. "We will judge by their actions."
Lavrov's response was consistent with the ambivalent rhetoric from Russian and Chinese representatives at the U.N. Security Council after both countries supported a U.S.-drafted resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea. Despite that apparent agreement, they faulted the United States for conducting military exercises with South Korea and deploying a new missile defense system to the region.
"All must understand that progress towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be difficult so long as [the North Korean regime] perceives a direct threat to its own security," Vasily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the U.N., told the council Saturday. "For that is how the North Koreans view the military build up in the region, which takes on the forms of frequent, wide-ranging exercises and maneuvers of the U.S. and allies as they deploy strategic bombers, naval forces, and aircraft carriers."
North Korea's top diplomat used those talking points in response to the new sanctions, and said that "possession of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles is a legitimate option for self-defense in the face of a clear and real nuclear threat posed by the US," per CNN.
Lavrov reiterated Russia's desire for the United States to start direct talks with the North Koreans and other countries in the region.
"We are confident that there is no alternative to the resumption of the political process, in particular the six-party talks," he said Tuesday. "We will certainly continue our dialogue with our North Korean neighbors. We expect that with the prudent approach of all players, naturally including the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan, we will be able to find a solution that suits all parties."
President Trump's team wants to use sanctions to force North Korea to negotiate an elimination of their nuclear program.
"We don't think having a dialogue where the North Koreans come to the table assuming they're going to maintain their nuclear weapons is productive," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters last week. "We would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea, but that will then promote economic prosperity throughout Northeast Asia."