The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday imposed a ceiling on North Korea’s coal exports to deprive it of hard currency three months after Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test.
The resolution ratchets up the sanctions in a previous resolution that passed in March in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test, conducted in January. The earlier resolution also banned countries from buying North Korean coal but exempted “livelihood” purchases.
Under its interpretation of the provision, China had continued to buy coal from its neighbor, which earns an estimated $1 billion a year from such sales. China, which fears floods of refugees if North Korea is destabilized, voted in favor of the resolution that removes the exemption, and U.S. officials say the move will pare North Korea’s earnings by more than 60 percent.
China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, called on North Korea to stop its nuclear testing but accused the United States and South Korea of increasing tensions with North Korea by stepping up military exercises in the region.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, thanked China for working on the language of the resolution, which she said will go after North Korea’s “illicit schemes.”
In addition to capping coal sales, the resolution also bans exports of copper, nickel, silver and zinc. It prohibits the sale of bronze monumental statues, which North Korea sells primarily to authoritarian rulers in Africa and the Middle East, earning tens of millions of dollars.
The resolution also adds bone china, rugs and tapestries to the list of banned luxury items that cannot be sold to North Korea, where they have been doled out as rewards for supporters of the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and it suggests that countries reduce the number of North Korean diplomats accredited in their capitals.
The United States began working on drafting a resolution shortly after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Sept. 9, an acceleration of its pursuit of nuclear warheads that can be mounted on missiles, including some that can reach the continental United States. But U.S. officials acknowledged the latest resolution is unlikely to act as an immediate brake on Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, which have continued to grow despite U.N. sanctions resolutions dating to 2006.
“Have the sanctions that the Security Council has imposed caused the DPRK to abandon its nuclear program?” said a U.S. official familiar with the resolution, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and speaking on the condition of anonymity to comment on the confidential negotiations. “Clearly the answer to that is no. A different question to ask is: Have they impeded the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile program from the development that it otherwise would have been able to do? I’m quite confident that the answer to that is yes.”
North Korea’s nuclear weapons proliferation will be one of the most urgent international crises confronting President-elect Donald Trump. This week, former president George W. Bush called the country a “prison run by a sadistic warden” and a grave security threat.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the latest resolution was the “toughest and most comprehensive” ever passed by the Security Council and called on Pyongyang to cease “further provocative actions.”