U.N. sanctions committee to meet at U.S. request over North Korea missiles

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council North Korea sanctions committee is due to meet on Friday, at the request of the United States, over Pyongyang's launch of two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan, a spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said.

The move suggests a measured response by U.S. President Joe Biden's administration to North Korea's first tests since he took office in January. Attempts by the Biden administration to reach out to North Korea have so far been rebuffed, according to U.S. officials.

Earlier on Thursday, Biden said the United States remained open to diplomacy with North Korea in spite of its missile tests this week, but warned there would be responses if North Korea escalates matters.

When North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles a year ago, Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium raised the issue behind closed-doors in the U.N. Security Council at ambassador level and then the European members condemned the tests as a provocative action in violation of U.N. resolutions.

In contrast, the United States asked for Friday's meeting of the sanctions committee, comprised of lower-level diplomats from the 15 council members, to discuss the latest launches.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Pyongyang to renew its diplomatic engagement with all parties concerned and to work for peace and stability, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Thursday.

"Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Haq said.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since 2006 North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions, which the Security Council has strengthened over the years in an effort to target funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Typically, China and Russia - which along with the United States, Britain and France hold veto power on the Security Council - have viewed only a test of a long-range missile or a nuclear weapon as a trigger for further possible U.N. sanctions.

North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon or its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) since 2017, ahead of an historic meeting in Singapore between leader Kim Jong Un and former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018.

However it has maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs throughout 2020, helping fund them with some $300 million stolen through cyber hacks, according to independent U.N. sanctions monitors.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis)