UN approves toughest sanctions on North Korea in 20 years
United States ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power votes on March 2, 2016. (Seth Wenig / AP)
Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, March 1, 2016 9:08PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 2, 2016 9:28PM EST
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the toughest sanctions on North Korea in two decades, 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 China, North Korea's traditional ally, 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."
South Korea's Defence Ministry said North Korea fired short-range projectiles into the sea just hours after the sanctions were approved.
The U.S., its Western allies and Japan pressed for new sanctions that went beyond the North's nuclear and missile programs but China was reluctant to impose measures that could threaten the stability of the neighbouring country 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.
North Korea ignored the chance to address the Security Council and a spokesman for the country's U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But South Korea's Defence Ministry said North Korea fired several short-range projectiles into the sea on Thursday, just hours after the sanctions were approved.
The North's launches also came shortly after Seoul approved its first legislation on human rights in North Korea. The South Korean bill's passage was ahead of the Security Council's approval of the sanctions.
Defence spokesman Moon Sang Gyun said the projectiles were fired from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan, and authorities were trying to determine whether the projectiles were missiles, artillery or rockets.
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." DPRK are the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
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.
Russia's 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 but not for general economic use. It prohibits all exports of gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore and rare earth minerals and bans aviation fuel exports to the country, including "kerosene-type rocket fuel."
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said it's estimated that the DPRK earns approximately $1 billion annually from coal -- a third of its export income -- and at least $200 million a year from iron ore exports.
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 of whom 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 Korea's 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.
"It pains all of us to think about how the regime has been developing weapons while people were starving, how the human potential has been wasted away in North Korea," Oh said.
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.