U.S. Weakens Resolution on North Korea to Gain Chinese and Russian Support

September 11, 2017



Bridges over the Yalu River connecting North Korea and China. A new proposal by the United Nations Security Council sets a cap on oil exports to North Korea, but does not block them altogether.CreditJohannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

UNITED NATIONS — The Trump administration has backed away from some of the most stringent penalties it had sought to impose on North Korea, in an apparent effort to draw Russian and Chinese backing for a new raft of sanctions over the country’s nuclear weapons advances.

Whether the administration will garner the support of Moscow and Beijing when the new sanctions come up for a vote Monday evening at the United Nations Security Council remains to be seen.

More important, it is wholly unclear whether additional sanctions will persuade Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The North Korean regime has pushed ahead with its nuclear weapons program, despite increasingly tougher sanctions in recent years. Just a week ago the North tested its most powerful nuclear device.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, reacted to that test by calling for a broad range of sanctions, including a cutoff of all oil supplies, in a new Security Council resolution.

Those demands were toned down in negotiations that followed with her Russian and Chinese counterparts. Late Sunday night, after a series of closed-door meetings, a revised draft emerged, setting a cap on oil exports to North Korea, but not blocking them altogether.

The resolution asks countries around the world to inspect ships going in and out of North Korea’s ports (a provision authorized by the Security Council in 2009) but does not authorize the use of force for ships that do not comply, as the Trump administration had originally proposed. The resolution also requires those inspections to be done with the consent of the countries where the ships are registered, which opens the door to violations. The original language proposed by the United States would have empowered American forces to interdict ships suspected of carrying weapons material or fuel into North Korea and to use “all necessary measures” to enforce compliance.

Nor does the resolution impose a travel ban or asset freeze on the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, as the original American draft had set out. And the new measure dilutes the original language that would have banned the import of North Korean laborers altogether, saying that countries should not provide work authorization papers unless necessary for humanitarian assistance or denuclearization. The weakened language was a nod to Russia, a big user of imported North Korean labor.

The new draft does ban textile exports out of North Korea, prohibits the sale of natural gas to North Korea and sets a cap on refined petroleum sales to two million barrels per year. That would shave off roughly 10 percent of what North Korea currently gets from China, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

China had long worried that an oil cutoff altogether would lead to North Korea’s collapse. And a new analysis by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies suggested that an oil embargo would not have much impact in the long run anyway; Pyongyang, the analysis said, could replace oil with liquefied coal.

The new sanctions resolution arguably represents Ms. Haley’s biggest diplomatic test.

Ultimately, analysts said, diplomatic success would be measured not by the strictness of sanctions, but by the ability of world powers to persuade Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

“There’s no only-sanctions strategy that will bring the North Koreans to heel,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, based in Washington. “It has to be paired with a pragmatic strategy of engagement. But those talks are not yet happening.”

Any measure needs at least nine out of 15 votes on the Council to be adopted, and no vetoes. Both Russia and China, as permanent members, wield veto power.

In a nod to Chinese and Russian arguments, the draft resolution also calls for a resolution to the crisis “through peaceful, diplomatic and political means.”

Diplomats said the new language, which was negotiated surprisingly swiftly after the North’s latest nuclear test, was a tough but balanced measure designed to address Chinese and Russian concerns.

“The version on the table is strong, it is robust, it is a very significant set of additional sanctions on imports into North Korea and on exports out of North Korea and other measures as well, so that’s why we will be voting in favor of it,” Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s ambassador, told reporters.

North Korea on Sunday warned that it would inflict the “greatest pain and suffering” on the United States, in the event of tougher international sanctions.



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