The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously backed a US-drafted resolution that significantly strengthened sanctions on North Korea, imposing a ban on exports aimed at depriving Pyongyang of $1 billion in annual revenue.
The sweeping measures were the first of that scope to be imposed on North Korea since US president Donald Trump took office and highlighted China’s willingness to punish its Pyongyang ally.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said he was encouraged by the vote, but officials warned that Washington would closely watch China – North Korea’s biggest trade partner – to ensure sanctions are enforced.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi met his North Korean counterpart Ri Hong-Yo before a major regional security forum being hosted by the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
He urged the North to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
‘It will help the DPRK to make the right and smart decision,’ Wang told reporters, speaking through a translator, after talks with Ri – referring to the sanctions and to Ri’s presence in Manila.
The resolution imposed a full ban on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore as well as fish and seafood by the cash-starved state – stripping North Korea of a third of its export earnings estimated at $3 billion per year.
US ambassador Nikki Haley said the stiffer measures brought the penalty imposed on North Korea for its ballistic missile tests ‘to
a whole new level’ and that the council had put leader Kim Jong-Un ‘on notice.’
‘This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation,’ Haley told the council after the vote.
‘These sanctions will cut deep and in doing so, will give the North Korean leadership a taste of the deprivation they have chosen to inflict on the North Korean people.’
The resolution also prevents North Korea from increasing the number of workers it sends abroad whose earnings are another source of revenue for Kim’s regime.
It prohibits all new joint ventures with the isolated nation, bans new investment in the current joint companies and adds nine North Korean officials and four entities including the country’s main foreign exchange bank to the UN sanctions blacklist.
If fully implemented, the measures would tighten the economic vise around Pyongyang as it seeks to develop its missile and nuclear programmes.
Trump hailed the unanimous vote, saying on Twitter the sanctions will have ‘very big financial impact!’
In a statement released several hours later, he specifically commended China and Russia for their votes.
‘The President appreciates China’s and Russia’s cooperation in securing passage of this resolution,’ said the White House.
‘He will continue working with allies and partners to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to end its threatening and destabilising behaviour.’
The United States entered into negotiations with China a month ago on the new resolution after Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, which was followed by a second test on July 28.
But the measure does not provide for cuts to oil deliveries to North Korea as initially proposed by the United States – a move that would have dealt a serious blow to the economy.
The new raft of embargoes are the seventh set of UN sanctions imposed on North Korea since it first carried out a nuclear test in 2006.
The United States has put heavy pressure on China, which accounts for 90 per cent of trade with North Korea, to enforce the sanctions and the fate of these measures largely hinges on Beijing’s cooperation.
China and Russia had resisted the US push, arguing that dialogue with North Korea was the way to persuade Pyongyang to halt its military programmes.
Chinese ambassador Liu Jieyi said the resolution ‘does not intend to cause a negative impact’ to North Korea’s people and stressed that it called for a return to talks on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
‘The fact that the council adopted this resolution unanimously demonstrates that the international community is united in its position regarding the nuclear issue of the peninsula,’ said Liu.
Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzia stressed that sanctions ‘cannot be an end in themselves’ but rather ‘a tool for engaging this country in constructive talks.’
Backed by Japan, South Korea and its European allies, the United States has maintained that tougher sanctions would put pressure on North Korea to come to the table.
As negotiations at the United Nations entered the final stretch earlier this week, Tillerson declared that Washington was not seeking regime change in North Korea and was willing to talk to Pyongyang.
Speaking to reporters after the council vote, Haley said ‘what’s next is completely up to North Korea.’
‘The United States has been loud about it, now the international community has been loud and North Korea now has to respond,’ she said.
Trump’s national security advisor, HR McMaster, said the United States would not tolerate the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests.
McMaster, in an interview with MSNBC, said Trump had told China’s president Xi Jinping it was no longer enough for North Korea to ‘freeze’ its programmes since it had already crossed ‘threshold capability’ and the goal was now denuclearisation.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were set to dominate talks Sunday and Monday at a regional summit in Manila, which will see a rare gathering of foreign ministers from the six countries most involved in the issue – both Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.
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