By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009 2:04 PM
UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Friday to impose a broad range of additional financial, military and trade sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests, and called on states for the first time to seize banned North Korean cargo on the high seas.
The Security Council's action marked a significant escalation in the United Nations' effort to coerce North Korea into halting a barrage of ballistic missile tests and to prod it back into six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The 15-nation council is now set to begin negotiations over imposition of an asset freeze or travel ban on additional individuals and state companies linked to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program
But the authority of the council's move was mitigated by its unwillingness to use force to ensure compliance, or to impose a comprehensive economic blockade that would severely curtail a boom in North Korean trade, particularly with China. "This is not a trade embargo," Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador, Philip Parham, said shortly before the vote.
In a sign of its reluctance to cut off Pyongyang, Beijing insisted that today's resolution include an exemption from an arms embargo that allows China to sell Pyongyang small arms and light weapons, including the signature AK-47 used by North Korea's giant military, according to council diplomats.
Still, the 15-nation council's unanimous condemnation of North Korea represented a diplomatic blow for North Korea, which has previously counted on China and Russia to derail U.S.-led efforts to impose sanctions on Kim Jong Il's government.
Following the vote, China's U.N. ambassador, Yesui Zhang, said: "We are firmly opposed to the nuclear test." But he urged countries to be "prudent" in searching suspected cargo and that "under no circumstance should there be the use of force or threats of the use force."
The Obama administration said the resolution provided a "strong and unified response" to North Korea's nuclear activities. "North Korea chose a path of provocation," said Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. ambassador for political affairs, told the council. "This resolution will give us new tools to impair North Korea's ability to proliferate and threaten international stability."
The resolution's adoption followed weeks of intensive closed-door negotiations among the Security Council's permanent members --the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain -- plus Japan and South Korea. It condemns North Korea in the "strongest terms" and demands that it cease any future nuclear or ballistic missile tests. It also demands that North Korea allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country and provide them with greater access to documents, individuals and facilities linked to its most sensitive military programs.
The resolution would restrict Pyongyang's access to international grants, financial assistance and low-interest loans. It would also reinvigorate efforts to enforce a range of sanctions imposed on North Korea after its first nuclear test in October 2006.
The resolution calls for U.N. members to inspect all shipments entering or leaving North Korea if there is a reasonable suspicion that the cargo contains banned nuclear or missile technology. Member nations would be given the right to search ships suspected of carrying banned materials on the high seas and to seize any contraband.
The resolution, however, includes important caveats, such as the need for the flag state -- the country in which a ship is registered --to approve the searches. If the flag state does not allow inspections on the high seas, it would be required to direct the ship to a nearby port for a search. But council members would not be authorized to use force to ensure that happens.
The current push for tough sanctions has generated skepticism among some observers, who recall that the Security Council never enforced sanctions on North Korea following its first nuclear test in October 2006.
In fact, North Korea's overseas trade has grown substantially since then, with trade volumes last year at their highest levels since 1990, when a far more prosperous and less isolated North Korea was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union, according to an analysis by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, a government-funded organization in Seoul.
North Korean exports surged 23 percent last year, compared with the previous year, and imports jumped 33 percent, the agency said. It found that China's share of overseas trade with the North is soaring, up from 33 percent in 2003 to 73 percent last year.
In an effort to ensure the sanctions are enforced this time around, the council established a panel of seven experts with the authority to carry out investigations to determine whether states are honoring their obligation to impose sanctions.
Correspondent Blaine Harden contributed to this report from Tokyo.