U.N. Near Agreement On N. Korea Sanctions

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 12 -- The U.N. Security Council moved closer Thursday night to agreement on a resolution that would impose an arms embargo and broad financial sanctions on North Korea in response to its claimed nuclear test, according to senior U.S. and European diplomats.

The council's five major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Japan hammered out a compromise text that was to be sent to capitals Thursday night for approval, diplomats said. The preliminary deal was struck after the United States, acting at the request of China, included assurances that the resolution could not be used as a pretext for future military action against North Korea.

"I don't want to say we've reached agreement, but many, many of the significant differences have been closed," John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, said after the meeting. "But I'm very pleased with the progress we've made, and I think it's close to the point where we will have an agreement."

"It was a good meeting," added French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. "We will now send the outcome of this meeting to our capitals. We are close to an agreement."

The diplomatic movement came hours after President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Washington with China's state councilor, Tang Jiaxuan.

Bush and Rice pressed Tang to support a series of tough measures designed to compel North Korea to halt its nuclear activities and resume multiparty talks aimed at eliminating Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

A U.S.-backed draft resolution presented to the council earlier Thursday would impose an arms embargo on North Korea, ban all trade linked to its programs for ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, and permit international inspections of North Korean cargo.

The U.S. text would also prohibit North Korean trade in luxury goods, and would ban travel and freeze assets of individuals involved in the country's prohibited weapons programs. North Korea would be given 30 days to halt its nuclear activities or face additional international penalties.

China has resisted the U.S. approach as too tough, instead favoring U.N. sanctions that would narrowly target North Korea's programs for nuclear and ballistic missiles. In an effort to address China's concern, the United States has agreed to include more restrictive language on the scope of military sanctions and inspections.

Rice told reporters that she, Bush and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley "had excellent talks" with Tang, a senior official who outranks the foreign minister.

"I think the Chinese clearly understand the gravity of the situation," Rice said. "They clearly understand that the North Koreans in doing this have made the environment much less stable and much less secure."

China has voiced concern that international inspections of North Korean cargo would excessively intrude into the country's commercial affairs.

Beijing also expressed concern that the resolution invokes a provision of the U.N. Charter, Chapter 7, that has been used in the past to authorize military force. China insists that the text should refer to a section of Chapter 7, Article 41, that authorizes only sanctions.

Security Council diplomats said the United States and China are working on compromise language that would split the difference. It would refer to Chapter 7 but would require explicit council approval to consider any action against North Korea.

Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, meanwhile, said early Thursday that Moscow needs more time to consider the U.S. draft. He said a vote should be delayed until after Russian officials hold high-level meetings in Moscow with a senior Chinese delegation on Friday and Saturday.

But council diplomats said Russia softened its opposition after Rice agreed in a phone conversation with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to drop U.S. opposition to a Russian-backed resolution criticizing its neighbor Georgia, which recently detained seven Russian soldiers who were accused of spying.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

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