Japan, Australia Sanction North Korea

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 4:19 PM

TOKYO -- Japan and Australia on Tuesday slapped fresh economic sanctions on North Korea, triggering protests from China that the move would worsen the standoff over Pyongyang's weapons programs.

The sanctions, which comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution that denounced North Korea's test firing of long-range missiles in July, ban fund transfers and remittances to 11 Pyongyang-based trading companies accused of bankrolling the country's weapons arsenal.

A North Korean bank and hospital, as well as Swiss company Kohas AG and its president, Jakob Steiger, were also affected by the restrictions, which took effect immediately.

"We have repeatedly used dialogue and pressure ... to achieve a peaceful resolution, but North Korea has not responded," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said late Tuesday.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said earlier in the day that the sanctions were consistent with his country's "strong international stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The Russian news agency ITAR-Tass quoted an unidentified North Korean diplomat as saying the Pyongyang regime was "indignant about the new sanctions ... all these moves by Tokyo, as well as by Washington, are absolutely unjust, aimed at strangling our republic."

The coordinated effort is meant to pressure North Korea to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear arms program, which have stalled since November 2005. At the talks, the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have tried to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear program.

But China said the new sanctions would escalate, rather than defuse, the standoff.

"The six-party talks are facing a stalemate because of the financial sanctions issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, calling the situation on the divided Korean Peninsula "sensitive and complicated."

Beijing's protest highlights deep divisions in the region on how to deal with North Korea.

Japan and the U.S. prefer pressure as a means of getting North Korea to return to the negotiating table and give up its nuclear ambitions.

Washington has already imposed sanctions on North Korean companies accused of money laundering, while Japan spearheaded efforts to get the Security Council to adopt a more harshly worded resolution after North Korea's missile tests.

The U.S. government welcomed the new sanctions Tuesday, and encouraged other states to take similar actions under the U.N. resolution.

South Korea offered only a muted comment. "We understand that (the two countries) made the decisions after reviewing domestic and international laws in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution," Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said in Seoul.

The American and South Korean chief nuclear negotiators were to meet in New York later this week to formulate a joint approach on North Korea.

The new sanctions target a range of Pyongyang-based trading companies that specialize in high-tech equipment, manufacturing and mining, including Korea Kwangsong Trading Corp., Korea Complex Equipment Import Corp. and Korea Mining Development Trading Corp.

Swiss authorities on Tuesday rejected accusations that Kohas, an industrial supply wholesale company, helped North Korea develop weapons of mass destruction.

"Federal authorities are regularly in contact with this firm and have yet to find any evidence that the company violated Swiss exporting rules," said Othmar Wyss, an official responsible for export control and sanctions at the Swiss Economics Ministry.

© 2006 The Associated Press