UN Tightens North Korea Sanctions

The Security Council unanimously approves tighter new sanctions on Pyongyang, but how will they be enforced?

un-nk-305.jpg The United Nations Security Council meets on North Korea's nuclear policy at the United Nations in New York, June 12, 2009.

WASHINGTON—The United Nations Security Council unanimously imposed tougher sanctions—including a stepped-up arms embargo and new financial curbs—on reclusive North Korea in response to its second nuclear test.

The 15-member council passed Resolution 1874 on Friday to condemn Pyongyang’s May 25 nuclear test, which it deemed in “violation and flagrant disregard” of Council resolutions.

It also demanded that North Korea “not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology.”

The sanctions aim at stopping North Korea's arms trade and sharply cutting into its revenues from abroad. They also authorize U.N. member countries to stop and search vessels suspected of carrying contraband arms. Pyongyang has said it would regard interdictions at sea as an act of war.

In Washington, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations praised the sanctions as “unprecedented.”

Susan Rice told reporters in the White House briefing room that "we're very pleased" with the sanctions, which followed the underground nuclear test and a series of ground-to-air missile test firings.

Rice said the resolution would curtail North Korea's ability to export banned nuclear material, which could be used in developing nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.

Unilateral sanctions?

Mitchell Reiss, former Policy Planning Director at the U.S. State Department, said that the U.S. may have been forced to accept a lesser scope of sanctions in order to reach a consensus.

"It is very difficult for us to do unilateral sanctions because we have so little commercial or financial interaction with North Korea," Reiss said.

"What we may be able to do—what we have done in the past—is go to financial institutions around the world and ask them not to do business with the North Koreans. That is something that has been very successful," he said.

Reiss said he expects the U.S. to wait to see how North Korea will react to the Security Council resolution before considering taking a unilateral approach through sanctions.

"Perhaps North Korea is going to wait and see if it is actually implemented. It’s one thing to pass a resolution; it’s something very different to actually implement its terms," he said.

Long negotiations

Passage of the resolution followed almost three weeks of negotiations, and the support of permanent Security Council members Russia and China—which have been reluctant to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in the past—was critical.

Mitchell Reiss noted that in the past China had voted for measures that they had been "less than rigorous" in employing.

"We’re told that this time is different. I’m skeptical. So I would like to wait and see evidence that in fact Beijing is going to change its past behavior and actually impose some real penalty on the North Koreans," he said.

The measure passed Friday gives 30 days to a U.N. sanctions sanctions panel to extend a list of North Korean entities, goods, and individuals to be subjected to an assets freeze and travel ban decreed in a 2006 resolution.

North Korea launched a long-range missile in April, which was roundly condemned by the Security Council. Pyongyang then retaliated by announcing May 25 that it had staged a second nuclear weapons test, more powerful than its previous nuclear test in 2006.

It also has declared the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War as void.

Original reporting by RFA's Korean service. Additional reporting by news agencies. Edited and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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