At U.N., U.S. Pushes For Vote on N. Korea

By Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 14, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 13 -- The United States and Japan pushed for a Saturday vote on a Security Council resolution that would condemn North Korea's reported nuclear test and impose an embargo on the communist government's trade in weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, most conventional heavy weapons and luxury goods.

But Russia raised new concerns that the resolution fails to adequately define what weapons-related goods would be covered by the embargo. And China, backed by Russia, insisted that the United States include greater assurances that the resolution could not be used to justify the armed seizure of North Korean ships traveling in international waters.

The Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Japan said they would continue negotiations Saturday morning and convene a meeting of the 15-nation council at noon.

The impasse came several hours after John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced that the resolution enjoyed the "unanimous agreement" of the council's key powers. "I'm still ready to go for a vote. We'll just have to see what the instructions are, particularly from Moscow and China," he said Friday evening.

The U.S.-backed draft text urges states to enforce the embargo by inspecting cargo entering or leaving North Korea. It would also ban travel and freeze the bank accounts of North Korean officials linked to the country's most lethal weapons programs.

To secure Chinese and Russian support for the resolution, the United States, Japan and their European allies have already agreed to include explicit assurances that the resolution could not be used as a pretext for military action. They also dropped other strong measures, including a U.S. proposal to give Pyongyang a 30-day deadline to suspend its nuclear activities or face additional penalties. Japan withdrew a series of controversial proposals to ban all North Korean exports and to prohibit North Korean aircraft and vessels from arriving in foreign ports.

But Bolton said that Russia raised concerns late Friday about four new problems with the text. The most important, according to Bolton, involved the "question of how we will define nuclear, biological and chemical and weapon-related materials and ballistic missile components."

China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, said Friday morning that many of the chief obstacles to an agreement had been cleared but that the council would "bridge a few final points" where some minor differences remained. But Wang told reporters that Chinese officials had discovered other problems in the text.

China's chief concern involves a provision calling for international inspections of North Korean cargo. China expressed concern that some states could invoke the provision to justify the seizure of North Korean ships in international waters, an act that Wang insists would be a violation of international law.

Bolton countered that there are existing international and national laws "that allow the boarding of ships in international waters." He said that those laws provide the authority for the U.S.-sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative, an agreement among 16 states to coordinate interdiction operations on the high seas. Bolton described the resolution as "a kind of codification" of the Proliferation Security Initiative and said that there is nothing new or different in the current resolution on North Korea.

Bolton also differed with Wang over the importance of a ban on luxury goods, which he said had been crafted to prevent North Korea's rulers, primarily the leader, Kim Jong Il, from spending lavishly on expensive foreign goods. "I think, you know, the North Korean population's been losing average height and weight over the years, and maybe this'll be a little diet for Kim Jong Il."

Wang said that a ban on luxury goods was unnecessary and too vague. "I don't know what luxury good means, because luxury goods can mean many things for different people," Wang told reporters.

U.S. officials believe it is essential to pass the resolution this weekend, before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice embarks next week on a trip to Japan, South Korea and China. Rice plans to meet with senior officials on implementing the provisions, including restricting North Korea's arms trade, the State Department announced.

"We'll be looking for ways to increase our cooperation with other countries and to make it clear to North Korea that it's going to have to figure out another way to earn its living besides this type of activity," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill said yesterday at the National Press Club.

Kessler reported from Washington.

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