UN passes North Korea sanctions stopping short of an oil embargo

UNSC approves new sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its latest missile, nuclear tests after the US dropped key demands in order to win support from Russia, China

Kambiz Foroohar
Updated12 Sep 2017
The 15-member United Nations Security Council passed the resolution unanimously Monday following a week of talks that began when Kim Jong Un’s North Korea tested its most powerful nuclear bomb. Photo:  Reuters
The 15-member United Nations Security Council passed the resolution unanimously Monday following a week of talks that began when Kim Jong Un’s North Korea tested its most powerful nuclear bomb. Photo: Reuters

New York: The United Nations Security Council approved new sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its latest missile and nuclear tests after the US dropped demands such as an oil embargo to win support from Russia and China.

The 15-member council passed the resolution unanimously on Monday following a week of talks that began when Kim Jong Un’s regime tested its most powerful nuclear bomb. The resolution seeks to cut imports of refined petroleum products to 2 million barrels a year, ban textile exports and strengthen inspections of ships that are believed to be carrying cargo in breach of sanctions.

“We are acting in response to a dangerous new development,” US envoy Nikki Haley told the Security Council after the vote. “These are the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea,” she said, adding that the US remains willing to act alone to stop Kim’s nuclear program if necessary.

North Korea has yet to respond to the sanctions. South Korea said on Tuesday that the isolated state remained technically prepared to perform a nuclear test. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon told parliament that while dialogue is ultimately the only solution, it’s not time to talk with North Korea.

While the US can claim a victory in persuading Russia and China — which hold veto power on the Security Council — to agree to the restrictions, the result is less than Haley had sought when she pushed for a ban on oil and a freeze on Kim’s assets abroad. And it’s unlikely to persuade Kim to halt his nuclear program and return to the negotiating table.

“Despite the tough talk, the US is willing to water down its demands to get support of Russia and China, and that is a calculation that we are more influential when there is Security Council unity,” said George Lopez, a professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame and a former UN expert on sanctions against North Korea.

Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN said the sanctions were “better than nothing, but not enough to really pressure North Korea,” adding that Pyongyang is likely to respond with a missile launch in the next few days.

“It’s a partial victory,” Richardson said Tuesday on Bloomberg TV. “China has decided to hurt North Korea, but not bring them down, not really weaken them.”

China, Russia

Representatives of China and Russia attempted to prod the US toward a diplomatic solution, emphasizing that the resolution calls for negotiations.

All parties should “remain cool-headed” in both rhetoric and action and “resume negotiations sooner rather than later,” China’s Ambassador Liu Jieyi told the security council. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said a “political settlement” ultimately is needed and that ignoring the call for negotiations “means a direct violation of the consensus reached in the council.”

North Korea’s state media attacked both Haley and the resolution ahead of the vote, vowing the US would face “the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history.”

“The DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the US pays a due price,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing a statement by the ministry of foreign affairs and using initials for North Korea’s formal name.

Despite the rhetoric, there were signs both sides are looking for a diplomatic solution. North Korean foreign ministry officials were said to be planning informal talks with former US officials in Switzerland on Monday, Japan’s Nippon Television reported, without saying where it got the information. Some Chinese banks have started banning new North Korean accounts or blocking new deposits to existing accounts, the Financial Times reported.

Chinese banks

The sanctions will cut imports to North Korea of fuels such as gasoline and diesel by almost 56% while capping shipments of crude at current levels, according to the US.

Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington, said it was better to fine Chinese banks doing business with North Korea than to try to cut off energy supplies.

“The Chinese are not going to retaliate because they know these banks, firms, and individuals are doing the wrong thing,” Ruggiero, who spent 17 years in the US government as an expert in the use of targeted financial measures, told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. “If you are in a C-level suite in a bank in China you should be thinking about what’s coming next.”

Textile ban

US officials said the new measures would cut North Korean exports by 90%, pinching the regime’s ability to get hard currency. The textile export ban alone would cost North Korea about $726 million a year, the US said.

Yet Kim has repeatedly shrugged off previous sanctions, staying focused on the goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.

The Security Council has called for the resumption of six-party talks aimed at negotiating a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Those talks — which included North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the US — broke off in 2009.

As of last week, China and Russia were pushing back on efforts to increase sanctions, with Russian President Vladimir Putin questioning their usefulness. Both Russia and China have called for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korea military drills. Haley has rejected that proposal as “insulting.”

The Security Council vote comes just over a month after UN diplomats targeted about $1 billion in North Korean exports following an earlier missile test. Short of a military conflict that analysts said could lead to millions of deaths and the destruction of Seoul, economic sanctions are among the few options available.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged China to use its influence to rein in Kim’s regime and he’s said Japan and South Korea can buy more sophisticated US military equipment to defend themselves from attack. China supplies most of North Korea’s estimated 10,000 barrels a day of crude oil, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Bloomberg

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