The U.N. Security Council on Monday agreed on its toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea that passed unanimously after the United States softened its initial demands to win support from China and Russia.
The sanctions set limits on North Korea’s oil imports and banned its textile exports in an effort to deprive the reclusive nation of the income it needs to maintain its nuclear and ballistic missile program and increase the pressure to negotiate a way out of punishing sanctions.
“Today, we are attempting to take the future of the North Korean nuclear program out of the hands of its outlaw regime,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
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“Today, we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” she added. “And today the Security Council is saying if North Korea does not halt its nuclear program, we will act to stop it ourselves.”
The new sanctions come on top of previous ones that cut into North Korea’s exports of coal, iron ore and seafood. Haley said that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s reported exports are now fully banned by sanctions.
The new sanctions ratchet up the pressure on North Korea, though they are far less sweeping than what Washington originally sought after Pyongyang carried out its sixth and most potent nuclear test Sept. 3. But the United States agreed to drop several key demands, and toned down others, to keep China and Russia from exercising their veto over the measure.
Just a week ago, Haley urged the “strongest possible” sanctions on North Korea. Among the measures Washington pushed in an initial draft were a complete oil embargo and an asset freeze and global travel ban on leader Kim Jong Un. During negotiations last week and through the weekend, the embargo became a cap, and the punitive measures against the leader were dropped.
Though toned down, the sanctions are potentially far-reaching in their ability to shave as much as $1.3 billion from North Korea’s revenue.
Under the Security Council resolution, imports of both refined and crude oil will be capped at 8.5 million barrels a year, which Haley said represents a 30 percent cut. Natural gas and condensates also were prohibited to close off possible alternative fuels. In addition, textiles, which last year accounted for $726 million, representing more than a quarter of North Korea’s export income, are banned.
In an effort to curb smuggling, the resolution allows countries to demand the inspection of ships suspected of carrying North Korean goods, though a U.S. proposal to allow the ships to be challenged with military force was dropped. But ships proven to be abetting Pyongyang’s efforts to evade sanctions are subject to an asset freeze and may be barred from sailing into ports.
And in a separate measure that will not take effect immediately, countries will be required not to renew contracts for an estimated 93,000 North Korean guest workers who labor overseas. According to U.S. assessments, their salaries bring the North Korean government $500 million a year.
In her remarks at the Security Council, Haley evoked the lessons of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 16 years ago.
“That day, the United States saw that mass murder can come from a clear blue sky on a beautiful Tuesday morning,” she said. “But today, the threat to the United States and the world is not coming out of the blue. The North Korean regime has demonstrated that it will not act on its own to end its nuclear program. The civilized world must do what the regime refuses to do. We must stop its march toward a nuclear arsenal with the ability to deliver it anywhere in the world.”
Haley said the United States is not seeking war with North Korea, which she said had “not yet passed the point of no return.”
“If it agrees to stop its nuclear program, it can reclaim its future,” she said. “If it proves it can live in peace, the world will live in peace with it.”
In recent days, the United States and its allies spent the past several days trying to come up with a resolution that would be acceptable to Moscow and Beijing.
Chinese analysts believe the country will continue to take an incremental approach.
It’s not that Beijing is not angry with Kim — it is. But Beijing worries that instability in North Korea will hurt Chinese interests.
Recent weapons tests have literally shaken Chinese border areas, and residents worry about nuclear fallout. Chinese authorities worry conflict could send North Korean refugees streaming across the border or bring U.S. troops closer to their door.
“Beijing has multiple, complex strategic considerations,” said Michael Kovrig, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group. “It wants to send a message to Kim Jong Un that his nuclear program is unacceptable and to punish bad behavior, but it does not want to trigger North Korea’s collapse or turn its neighbor into a permanent enemy.”
Crude oil supply is vital to North Korea, particularly its military. A complete cutoff could be perceived in Pyongyang as an existential threat to the regime, Kovrig said. So China needs to seriously consider the chaos — political and otherwise — that could ensue.
And the timing is key. “Once China employs its economic leverage, it loses it as a further bargaining tool,” Kovrig said. “That’s why in the past, China has tried to calibrate sanctions to ‘punish but not strangle’ North Korea.”
Haley praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying the Security Council resolution would not have happened without the relationship between Xi and President Trump.
Russia, itself the subject of sanctions over Ukraine, has called sanctions against Moscow “illegal.” Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasilly Nebenzia, said Moscow believes it would be “wrong” to allow North Korea’s nuclear test to go unanswered. But he criticized the United States for not assuring Pyongyang that Washington does not seek war or regime change.
“We’re convinced that diverting the menace posed by North Korea could be done not by more sanctions but by political means,” he said.
In Pyongyang, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a statement warning the United States will pay a “due price” if it pursues stronger sanctions.
“The forthcoming measures to be taken by the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will cause the U.S. the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history,” according to the statement released by the Korean Central News Agency.