UNITED NATIONS – The United States called for a vote Monday on a U.N. resolution that would impose the toughest-ever sanctions on North Korea, a move that could lead to a showdown with the country’s biggest trading partner China and its neighbor Russia.
The Trump administration adopted a totally new approach with this resolution, circulating an American draft Tuesday and setting a vote six days later. With previous sanctions resolutions, the U.S. spent weeks and sometimes months negotiating the text with China and then presenting a resolution to the rest of the Security Council for a vote.
Several diplomats said the U.S. demand for a speedy council vote was aimed at putting maximum pressure on China and reflected Washington’s escalating concern over North Korea’s latest nuclear test, which its leaders touted as a hydrogen bomb, and its recent ballistic missile launch over Japan.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, who backs “robust” new sanctions, said Thursday that the U.S. proposals to ban all oil imports and textile exports and prohibit North Koreans from working overseas – which helps fund and fuel the country’s nuclear and missile programs – are “a proportionate response” to its “illegal and reckless behavior.”
Rycroft stressed that “maximum possible pressure” must be exerted on North Korea to change course and give diplomacy a chance to end the crisis.
The proposed U.S. sanctions would also freeze all foreign financial assets of the government and its leader, Kim Jong Un. The U.S. draft also identified nine ships that have carried out activities prohibited by previous U.N. resolutions and would authorize any U.N. member state to stop these vessels on the high seas without their consent and use “all necessary measures” – which in U.N. language includes force – to carry out an inspection and direct the vessel to a port.
Professor Joseph DeThomas of Pennsylvania State University, a former U.S. ambassador and State Department official who dealt with North Korea, said the U.S. demand for quick council action is “an indicator of how the administration thinks time has run out.”
“My sense is they believe that they don’t have time for a delicate diplomatic dance,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. “The other possibility … is they want to see the color of China’s money. They’re putting down the marker here and saying `OK, Are you prepared to do what is necessary to put pressure on North Korea at a moment when we’re simply out of time?“’
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions on the resolution have been private, said all 15 Security Council members discussed the draft on Friday, and both China and Russia appeared willing to negotiate.
Russia has said sanctions aren’t working and President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that a total oil cutoff could hurt the North Korean people. Beijing and Moscow have called for a resolution that focuses on a political solution and have proposed a freeze-for-freeze that would halt North Korean nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea halting their joint military exercises – an initiative rejected by the Trump administration.
There was no word on the outcome of negotiations, and whether any changes sought by the Russians and Chinese were acceptable to the United States.
A brief statement from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations late Friday said: “This evening, the United States informed the U.N. Security Council that it intends to call a meeting to vote on a draft resolution to establish additional sanctions on North Korea on Monday, September 11.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called the nuclear risk in North Korea the most dangerous crisis in the world today, told reporters Tuesday that “the unity of the Security Council is absolutely crucial.” He explained that only a united council can provide the pressure needed to enable successful negotiations to take place to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
DeThomas agreed that it was unwise to break the unity of the Security Council, but he said the U.S. administration is unlikely to accept “a very watered down approach.”
“It’s clear that American diplomacy over the past two decades has failed because this is where we are with North Korea, but if we failed, the Chinese ought to be abjectly embarrassed over their failures,” he said. “We have no leverage. They have a lot of leverage. They have produced nothing.”
“To get the situation contained without war is going to be really hard, and that’s if we’ve got our diplomacy right,” he said. “If we start breaking crockery diplomatically, I don’t see how you get anywhere without the Russians and Chinese – especially the Chinese.”
DeThomas said putting the Chinese “on the other team” won’t benefit the United States in the long-term.
He explained that this would force the U.S., and possibly Japan and South Korea, to try to do things unilaterally to increase pressure on North Korea. But he said trying to stop goods and material flowing from China to North Korea without U.N. backing would substitute a U.S.-China confrontation for the current nuclear weapons crisis with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.
As for the North Koreans, their official news agency on Friday said the country’s “nuclear weaponization … has reached its final phase.”
The KCNA report sharply criticized U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley for playing “the flagship role” in the Trump administration’s “hideous sanctions and pressure racket against the DPRK.”
The agency called Haley “a political prostitute” and dismissed as “rubbish” her comments at an emergency Security Council meeting Monday following the latest nuclear test that the DPRK is “begging for a war.” The agency accused the U.S. of being the “chieftain of aggression and war and wrecker of peace.”
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said it had no comment on the KCNA report, which concluded by saying: “The U.S. administration will have to pay a dear price for her tongue-lashing.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter