UNSC steps up sanctions on defiant North Korea

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Cho Tae-yul, South Korean ambassador to the United Nations speaks during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council concerning North Korea. AFP

UNITED NATIONS/SEOUL (Reuters) – The UN Security Council unanimously voted to step up sanctions on North Korea, with its profitable textile exports now banned and fuel supplies capped, prompting a traditionally defiant threat of retaliation against the United States.

Monday’s decision, triggered by the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month, was the ninth such resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member Security Council since 2006 over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.

Japan and South Korea said after the passage of the US-drafted Security Council resolution they were prepared to apply more pressure if North Korea refused to end its aggressive development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

A tougher initial US draft was weakened to win the support of China, Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner, and Russia, both of which hold veto power in the council.

“We don’t take pleasure in further strengthening sanctions today. We are not looking for war,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council after the vote.

“The North Korean regime has not yet passed the point of no return.

“If it agrees to stop its nuclear programme, it can reclaim its future … If North Korea continues its dangerous path, we will continue with further pressure,” said Ms Haley.

North Korea’s ambassador, Han Tae-song, told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva yesterday the US was “fired up for political, economic, and military confrontation”.

The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the US, which it accuses of continual preparation for invasion.

“My delegation condemns in the strongest terms, and categorically rejects, the latest illegal and unlawful UN Security Council resolution,” he said.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was “ready to use a form of ultimate means”, Mr Han said, without elaborating. “The forthcoming measures by DPRK will make the US suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history.”

UN member states are now required to halt imports of textiles from North Korea, its second largest export after coal and other minerals in 2016 that totalled $752 million and accounted for a quarter of its income from trade, according to South Korean data. Nearly 80 percent went to China.

“This resolution also puts an end to the regime making money from the 93,000 North Korean citizens it sends overseas to work and heavily taxes,” Ms Haley said.

“This ban will eventually starve the regime of an additional $500 million or more in annual revenues.”

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said the only way for Pyongyang to end diplomatic isolation and free itself of economic pressure was to end its nuclear programme and resume dialogue.

“North Korea needs to realise that a reckless challenge against international peace will only bring about even stronger international sanctions against it,” the Blue House said.

However, China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the Trump administration was making a mistake by rejecting diplomatic engagement with the North.

“The US needs to switch from isolation to communication in order to end an ‘endless loop’ on the Korean peninsula, where nuclear and missile tests trigger tougher sanctions and tougher sanctions invite further tests”, Xinhua said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quickly welcomed the resolution and said after the vote it was important to change North Korea’s policy by stepping up pressure.

The resolution imposes a ban on condensates and natural gas liquids, a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products, and a cap on crude oil exports to North Korea at current levels. China supplies most of North Korea’s crude.

A US official, familiar with the council negotiations and speaking on condition of anonymity, said North Korea imported about 4.5 million barrels of refined petroleum products annually and 4 million barrels of crude oil.

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