Key U.N. Powers Agree on N. Korea Statement

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, April 11 -- The U.N. Security Council's five permanent powers and Japan reached agreement Saturday on a statement condemning North Korea's April 5 rocket launch over Japan. The text would revive a 2 1/2 -year-old threat of financial and travel sanctions against individuals and entities linked to Pyongyang's missile program.

The pact set the stage for a likely agreement as early as Monday by the 15-nation council on a statement that would also demand that North Korea not conduct any additional missile tests. It ended a diplomatic standoff between the United States and China, which blocked an American-backed effort to rally international criticism of North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Saturday's accord came less than a week after President Obama called on the Security Council to punish North Korea for launching the rocket in violation of U.N. resolutions banning Pyongyang's use of ballistic missile technology.

It came less than 48 hours after U.S. and Chinese diplomats brokered a compromise text that registered displeasure over North Korea's launch while encouraging it to agree to the early resumption of six-nation talks aimed at "achieving the verifiable denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula. Those talks broke down in December over a dispute between the United States and North Korea over an American plan to verify the dismantlement of Pyongyang's nuclear program.

"We think this is very strong and sends a clear message to the DPRK that their violation of international law will not be treated with impunity and will indeed have consequences," U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice told reporters after the big powers briefed the full council on the draft. It "clearly and unequivocally condemns the launch of April 5, it makes it plain that this launch contravenes" U.N. resolutions.

The Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea in October 2006, shortly after Pyongyang tested a nuclear device. The sanctions included a prohibition on additional nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches and a ban on trade in conventional military equipment, including battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. It also set up a sanctions panel to manage a list of individuals and companies that would be subject to a travel ban and a freeze on their financial assets.

The council has never submitted a list of North Korean individuals or companies that would be subject to the measures. The panel suspended its activities in summer 2007 after North Korea struck an agreement with the United States and other key powers to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Saturday's draft calls for reactivating the U.N. sanctions committee to produce by April 24 a new list of individuals and companies subject to sanctions. If the committee -- which includes all 15 council members and makes decisions by consensus -- cannot agree on a list, the matter will be taken up in a formal session of the Security Council on April 30. The council can pass a measure with nine votes, as long as none of the permanent five members casts a veto. The statement also urges member states to enforce sanctions against Pyongyang.

The agreement required concessions by both sides. China and Russia initially defended North Korea's claim that it had the right to launch a satellite into orbit. But by supporting the compromise, they accepted the U.S. argument that Pyongyang's launch violated the terms of the 2006 U.N. Resolution 1718, which bans all nuclear and ballistic missile technology.

But the United States and Japan were unable to secure support for the adoption of a more forceful Security Council resolution, which is legally binding. Instead, the council's big powers approved a weaker presidential statement, which traditionally carries less legal force than a resolution.

Rice said that the statement would be "legally binding" on North Korea and that the new list of sanctions -- which would include an expanded ban on more goods -- would be "reinforcing and substantially strengthening" the sanctions.

Japan, whose territory lies in the missile's flight path, backed down after Prime Minister Taro Aso met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Pattaya, Thailand. Aso pressed the Chinese leader to accept tougher measures against North Korea, according to diplomats.

Japan's U.N. ambassador, Yukio Takasu, said his government would have preferred a resolution. "We feel most threatened by this act," he said, adding that his government had yielded to maintain council unity.

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