By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 13, 2009
UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to impose a broad set of additional financial, military and trade sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests. It also called on states for the first time to seize banned North Korean weapons and technology aboard ships on the high seas.
While the 15-nation council stopped short of authorizing military action to enforce those measures, its unanimous condemnation of North Korea represented a diplomatic blow for the country's ailing leader, Kim Jong Il, who has previously counted on China and Russia to derail efforts to impose sanctions.
Following the vote, China's U.N. ambassador, Zhang Yesui, said that his government is "firmly opposed to the nuclear test" and that North Korean actions have "impaired" international efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. But he urged countries, apparently referring to the United States, to "act prudently" in responding to North Korea, and he insisted that "under no circumstance should there be the use of force or threats of the use of force."
At the White House, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution's financial sanctions are "very robust" and have "teeth that will bite." For instance, she said, a provision banning all arms exports from North Korea would cut off a major source of foreign revenue that could be used for its nuclear programs.
Washington maintains that such sanctions offer the greatest prospects for disrupting the country's nuclear and ballistic missile trade.
The Treasury Department in 2005 targeted Banco Delta Asia, based in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau, alleging it was involved in laundering counterfeit U.S. currency for North Korea. The Treasury action had wide repercussions, forcing all U.S. banks and many leading financial institutions around the world to curtail dealings with North Korea to avoid any similar taint.
But this resolution was carefully crafted to inflict as little economic pain as possible on ordinary Koreans, U.S. and other council diplomats said, citing an exemption for the import of humanitarian goods and funds for economic development and denuclearization efforts.
The Security Council's action marked an escalation in the United Nations' effort to compel North Korea to restrain its nuclear activities and resume six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The council is set to consider an asset freeze and travel ban on additional individuals and state companies linked to Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile program.
Friday's action follows more than two weeks of intense negotiations among the council's five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Japan and South Korea. It required a series of concessions by the United States, Japan and their European allies, including the elimination of a provision that would make financial sanctions mandatory.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said his government had agreed to support the resolution only after the United States and its partners agreed to add language that would exclude the possibility of using force to compel compliance with the council demands. China, meanwhile, insisted on an exemption for it and other suppliers from an arms embargo, allowing the sale of small arms and light weapons, including the signature AK-47 assault rifle used by North Korea's giant military, according to council diplomats.
Resolution 1874 condemns North Korea in the "strongest terms" and demands that it cease any future nuclear or ballistic missile tests. It requires North Korea to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country and to provide them with greater access to documents, individuals and facilities linked to its most sensitive military programs.
The resolution is designed to reinvigorate efforts to enforce a variety of sanctions that were imposed on North Korea, but never implemented, after the North's first nuclear test in October 2006. It also calls for expanding on those measures, for example, by restricting Pyongyang's access to international grants, financial assistance and low-interest loans.
The most controversial measure calls for the inspection of North Korean cargo on the high seas if there are "reasonable grounds" to believe it contains banned military equipment. But it remained unclear how the council would compel a North Korean ship to allow such a search, since there is no provision to force compliance.
Under the terms of the resolution, the crew of a foreign vessel is permitted to board a ship suspected of transporting banned North Korean weapons or equipment only if the country where the ship is registered agrees. If not, the resolution requires that country to direct the ship to an "appropriate" port to be searched. North Korea has warned that it would consider any attempts to board its ships to be an act of war, and that it would respond with force.
In an effort to ensure the sanctions are enforced, the council authorized a panel of seven experts to investigate whether states are honoring their obligations to follow Security Council resolutions.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.