• Kyodo, Reuters

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The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously adopted a new sanctions resolution that targets nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum product exports to North Korea and demands the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad.

The new measure came in response to Pyongyang’s test-firing last month of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile it claims could carry a heavy warhead and strike anywhere in the United States.

“It sends the unambiguous message to Pyongyang that further defiance will invite further punishment and isolation,” said U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley after the 15-0 vote.

The U.S.-drafted resolution will impose a tighter cap starting in January on diesel, kerosene and other refined petroleum product exports to North Korea, dropping the limit to 500,000 barrels annually from 2 million barrels a year as it stands now.

The current limit was set in a Security Council resolution adopted in September following the North’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

The document stipulates that crude oil exports to North Korea should not exceed a maximum of 4 million barrels a year. It commits the council to “take action to restrict further the export (to the country) of petroleum.”

“Today’s resolution exemplifies the serious, collective will of the international community that we will continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea until it shows seriousness and takes concrete actions toward the goal of denuclearization,” Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho said in his remarks following the vote.

Quoting the latest resolution, Bessho underscored the council’s “continuous review” of North Korea’s actions and determination to impose further restrictions in response to additional launches, as well as its willingness to modify or suspend measures in the case of compliance.

The resolution’s call for the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad was altered shortly before the vote, at the apparent urging of Russia, to increase the original one-year time frame to two years, starting Friday.

“The adoption of the resolution was made possible solely thanks to the fact that our concerns were reflected and accounted for,” said Russian deputy envoy Vladimir Safronkov, who stressed that key activities such as diplomacy in North Korea and the operations of the country’s airline are exempted from the sanctions.

While denouncing North Korea’s “unacceptable” nuclear and missile programs as well as the “tremendous risks” posed by its unannounced launches, Safronkov urged the “establishment of an atmosphere of trust among states in the region” through the de-escalation of military activity by multiple parties.

“Unity is not only important in favor of sanctions, but unity is also important to support a political settlement,” he said. “Isolation and pressure must give way to dialogue and talks.”

China, which accounts for about 90 percent of the North’s trade and is a main supplier of oil to the country, also insisted on diplomacy.

“China has made enormous efforts to push for settlement through dialogue and negotiations and has paid a price higher than all the other parties for the purpose of implementing the council’s resolutions,” Deputy Ambassador Wu Haitao said.

Asserting that “there is no military option for settling the nuclear issue on the peninsula,” Wu reiterated a dual-suspension proposal whereby North Korea’s halting of its weapons development would be conditional upon the United States and South Korea calling off large-scale military exercises in the region.

Data released by China on Saturday showed that its trade with North Korea edged up to $388 million in November but remained around its lowest levels this year. The total is up 12.5 percent from October’s $344.9 million but far lower than $613.2 million a year ago.

China bought goods worth $100.18 million in the last month, up from $90.75 million in October but lower compared to $262.2 million a year ago. Exports totaled $287.84 million in November, up from $244.2 million in October.

South Korea, for its part, offered encouragement for the path of diplomacy and urged the North to join the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Ambassador Park Chull-joo, participating as an observer since South Korea is not currently a member of the Security Council, said, “However narrow and bumpy it may be, the road toward peaceful denuclearization through dialogue is still open and available.”

On Nov. 29, North Korea declared the completion of its “state nuclear force” following the launch of an ICBM that flew to an altitude of 4,475 kilometers, a distance regarded as more than sufficient to reach any part of the continental United States if launched on a standard angle instead of its steep “lofted” trajectory.

Tensions have escalated this year between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s continued development of nuclear and ballistic weapons, with exchanges of bellicose rhetoric that have sparked fears about the risk of war.

In a bid to further choke North Korea’s external sources of funding, Friday’s resolution also calls for banning North Korean exports of food products, machinery, electrical equipment, earth and stone, covering items such as magnesite and magnesia, wood, and vessels.

To be prohibited similarly are exports to North Korea of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals.

The resolution also demands that countries inspect ships in their territorial waters that are suspected of carrying oil and other banned products to North Korea.

In addition, the resolution subjects the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and 16 more North Korean individuals to a global asset freeze and travel ban.

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