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UN Diplomats Mull Options on North Korea

  • Margaret Besheer

The United Nations Security Council votes on a new sanctions resolution that would increase economic pressure on North Korea to return to negotiations on its missile program, at U.N. headquarters in New York, Aug. 5, 2017.

On Saturday, August 5, the U.N. Security Council unanimously increased international pressure on North Korea, imposing the toughest sanctions to date on the rogue nation to compel it to stop pursuing nuclear and ballistic weapons.

The negotiations took several weeks and were, at times, difficult. Not unusual when it comes to working out targeted sanctions against Pyongyang.

Negotiations on the previous two sanctions resolutions took about three months each.

The United States led the discussions along with China, the North’s main ally. U.S. negotiators managed to win some tough concessions from China, including the removal of a cap on coal exports from North Korea and replacing it with an all-out ban. They also hit other sectors, including iron and iron ore, and lead and lead ore, as well as seafood.

Combined, the export revenue losses to Pyongyang are expected to be about $1 billion a year – or a third of their entire export income – if the sanctions are fully enforced.

“Nuclear and ballistic missile development is expensive,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told Security Council members after the vote. “The revenues the North Korean government receives are not going toward feeding its people,” she noted.

The council hopes to choke funding to the illicit weapons program while nudging leader Kim Jong Un to a diplomatic and political settlement.

A man watches a TV screen showing a local news program reporting about North Korea's missile firing with an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with a pair of binoculars, at Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, July 5, 2017. The U.N. Security council hopes sanctions will nudge North Korean leader Kim toward a diplomatic and political settlement.
A man watches a TV screen showing a local news program reporting about North Korea's missile firing with an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with a pair of binoculars, at Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, July 5, 2017. The U.N. Security council hopes sanctions will nudge North Korean leader Kim toward a diplomatic and political settlement.

Getting to sanctions

This is the latest and progressively toughest round of sanctions imposed on North Korea since its first nuclear test in 2006. They were necessitated by two intercontinental ballistic missile launches in July — which showed that Pyongyang may now have the capacity to bring the U.S. mainland and much of Europe into its crosshairs.

The strength of the sanctions also indicates that even Beijing’s patience with North Korea is wearing thin.

“I think on the Chinese side, just by agreeing to these measures, the sectoral stuff, they would never have agreed to this just a couple of years ago,” one Security Council diplomat said. “I think [this] demonstrates that they actually believe that some solution will require applying additional pressure of this sort — measures that have a role on economic impact,” the diplomat added.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States is not interested in regime change or its collapse, sending its military into North Korea or the immediate reunification of the Korean peninsula. He also left the door open to dialogue with Pyongyang.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, seized on those remarks after backing the new sanctions resolution, even giving Tillerson’s comments a name.

“It’s our hope that the U.S. side will translate these 'four no’s' into concrete policies toward the DPRK,” Liu said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Some observers question whether Tillerson was trying to smooth the way for Beijing to accept the new sanctions. Former U.S. deputy ambassador to the U.N. and North Korea sanctions negotiator David Pressman disagrees.

“I think it’s largely consistent with U.S. policy and what U.S. policy has been for some time,” said Pressman, now a partner with law firm Boies Schiller Flexner. “Obviously, it is helpful for the Chinese to be reminded that our policy has not changed.”

Analysts say that for the latest round of sanctions to have any impact, China needs to fully implement them. That is something Beijing has been accused of not always doing in the past.

“Will they now faithfully implement the spirit of the resolution? That is something that requires more than political courage to raise your hand and vote for something, it requires a practical enforcement that to-date has been lax,” Pressman said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after a Security Council vote on a new sanctions resolution that would increase economic pressure on North Korea to return to negotiations on its missile program, Aug. 5, 2017, at U.N. headquarters in New York. Haley says all U.N. member states must do more to increase the pressure on North Korea.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after a Security Council vote on a new sanctions resolution that would increase economic pressure on North Korea to return to negotiations on its missile program, Aug. 5, 2017, at U.N. headquarters in New York. Haley says all U.N. member states must do more to increase the pressure on North Korea.

Next steps

“While the Security Council has done good work, the members of the Security Council — and all U.N. member states — must do more to increase the pressure on North Korea,” Ambassador Haley said Saturday. “We must work together to fully implement the sanctions we imposed today and those imposed in past resolutions.”

That also could include secondary sanctions on countries that do not enforce the measures imposed on North Korea.

While it is full speed ahead on the pressure track, North Korea also needs an “off ramp,” the Security Council diplomat said, similar to what the major powers did for Iran in negotiating the deal that brought their nuclear program under international monitoring and lifted sanctions.

"There needs to be a direction where this country can go, where it can take the steps it needs to take," the diplomat said of Pyongyang.

What that would be and how to get there is still under discussion, but it almost certainly would include a return to some format of international talks.

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