UNITED NATIONS/BRUSSELS – The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the toughest sanctions on North Korea in two decades on Wednesday, reflecting growing anger at Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test and rocket launch in defiance of a ban on all nuclear-related activity.
The United States and North Korea’s traditional ally China spent seven weeks negotiating the new sanctions, which include mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering North Korea by land, sea or air; a ban on all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang; and expulsion of diplomats from the North who engage in “illicit activities.”
The U.S., its Western allies and Japan pressed for new sanctions that went beyond the North’s nuclear and missile programs but China, Pyongyang’s neighbor, was reluctant to impose measures that could threaten the stability of North Korea and cause its economy to collapse. Nonetheless, Beijing did agree to several measures aimed at shutting down financing for nuclear and missile programs.
“The international community, speaking with one voice, has sent Pyongyang a simple message: North Korea must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
North Korea started off the new year with what it claims was its first hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6 and launched a satellite on a rocket on Feb. 7. The launch was condemned by much of the world as a test of banned missile technology.
A spokesman for North Korea’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Monday, the official KCNA news agency published a commentary saying “it is nothing but a pipe dream for the U.S. to expect the DPRK to collapse due to ‘sanctions.’ This is as foolish as waiting the missions of the sun and stars to come to an end.”
China, Russia and others expressed hope Wednesday that the sanctions will lead to the immediate resumption of six-party talks aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea withdrew from the talks in 2008.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that “by shutting down, as much as possible, the financing of DPRK’s nuclear-ballistic programs, the idea is to ensure the return to the table of negotiations all the interested parties.”
The resolution bans the export of coal, iron and iron ore being used to fund North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs, and it prohibits all exports of gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore and rare earth minerals. It also bans aviation fuel exports to the country, including “kerosene-type rocket fuel.”
In the financial and banking sector, countries are required to freeze the assets of companies and other entities linked to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
The resolution also prohibits all countries from opening new branches, subsidiaries and representative offices of North Korean banks, and bans financial institutions from establishing new joint ventures or establishing or maintaining correspondent relationships with these banks. It orders countries to close all North Korean banks and terminate all banking relationships within 90 days.
The resolution stresses that the new measures are not intended to have “adverse humanitarian consequences” for civilians, the majority who face economic hardships and food shortages.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that “part of the perverse reality that has no equal in this world” is that North Korea prioritizes its nuclear and ballistic missile programs over the basic needs of its own people.
South Korean U.N. Ambassador Oh Joon said North Korea’s six missile tests and four nuclear tests, according to some estimates, have cost at least $4 billion. Meanwhile, he said, the U.N. is spending a little over $100 million annually on humanitarian aid to the country.
Under the previous four rounds of U.N. sanctions imposed since the country’s first nuclear test in 2006, North Korea is banned from importing or exporting nuclear or missile items and technology as well as luxury goods. The new resolution expands the list of banned items, adding luxury items such as expensive watches, snowmobiles, recreational water vehicles and sports equipment, and lead crystal.
It also adds 16 individuals, 12 “entities” including the National Aerospace Development Agency, which was responsible for February’s rocket launch, and 31 ships owned by the North Korean shipping firm Ocean Maritime Management Company to the sanctions blacklist. That requires the freezing of assets and, in the case of individuals, a travel ban as well.
Initially there were 17 individuals on the list, but diplomats said Russia insisted on dropping Jang Song Chol, the Russia representative of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation. An annex to the resolution on “Items, Materials, Equipment, Goods and Technology” that can be used in missile and nuclear activities was also eliminated at Russia’s insistence, diplomats said.
The resolution also bans Pyongyang from chartering vessels or aircraft, and call on countries to “de-register” any vessel owned, operated or crewed by the North.
As with previous resolutions, the test will be whether U.N. member states enforce the sanctions. A U.N. panel of experts monitoring the sanctions has repeatedly pointed out that enforcement in a significant number of cases has been weak.
Power, the U.S. ambassador, said North Korea will undoubtedly “try to drive a truck through any loophole they find,” but she expressed confidence that the resolution eliminated them.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would consider further measures against North Korea after the U.N. Security Council imposed the toughest sanctions ever imposed against Pyongyang.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the adoption of the resolution in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and rocket launch was a “clear expression of the unity and resolve of the international community.”
“The EU will swiftly transpose this resolution into EU law and will consider whether additional autonomous restrictive measures are called for to complement this resolution,” Mogherini said.
Mogherini added that North Korea’s actions were “a grave threat to international peace and security in the region and beyond.”
The 28-nation EU already has all the previous U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang in force as well as some of its own.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council on Wednesday passed a resolution drafted by the United States and backed by China, Pyongyang’s sole ally, that took aim at North Korean exports and set up inspections of all cargo to and from the reclusive country.
South Korea’s foreign minister called on the U.N. Security Council to expand sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday to punish what he called an escalating and increasingly threatening nuclear program.
Yun Byung-se called North Korea a “serial offender” and denounced Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and latest long-range missile launch, carried out in January and February.
North Korea’s Ambassador Se Pyong So said his country’s nuclear program was designed to ensure peace on the divided Korean Peninsula, and warned that more sanctions would bring a “tougher reaction.
Both men addressed the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament in Geneva hours before major powers were scheduled to vote at the U.N. Security Council across the Atlantic on a resolution to expand sanctions on North Korea.
The United States also condemned Pyongyang’s actions.
“The international community stands united in its firm opposition to the DPRK’s development and possession of nuclear weapons,” Christopher Buck, deputy U.S. disarmament ambassador, told the Geneva talks.
“We do not and will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.”
After nearly two months of bilateral negotiations, China last month agreed to support new measures in the Security Council to try and persuade its ally North Korea to abandon its atomic weapons program.
Pyongyang has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 because of its nuclear tests and multiple rocket launches.
“It’s no wonder that the Security Council will very soon put up a landmark resolution with the strongest ever non-military sanction measures in seven decades of U.N. history,” South Korea’s Yun said.
The credibility of the nuclear nonproliferation regime needed to be protected, he added.
“Even at this moment, Pyongyang is accelerating its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities from nuclear bombs and hydrogen bombs to ICBMs and SLBMs,” he said referring to intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“We have heard Pyongyang officially state its intention not only to further develop its nuclear weapons and missiles but also to use them.”
Japan’s parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, Masakazu Hamachi, said North Korea’s actions had undermined the security of Northeast Asia and the rest of the world.
North Korea’s envoy retorted that the nuclear program was “not directed to harm the fellow countryman but to protect peace on the Korean Peninsula and security in the region from the U.S. vicious nuclear war scenario.”
“The more sanctions will bring about tougher reaction,” So said.