The United Nations Security Council on Friday placed sanctions on North Korea for the third time this year, demanding countries repatriate North Korean guest workers within two years and further squeezing its oil imports.
The sanctions were adopted by a 15-0 vote, three weeks after Pyongyang said it had tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
The United States sponsored the resolution, which was backed by China and Russia, but failed to get the maximum sanctions it had hoped for.
Washington wanted an estimated 93,000 North Koreans working abroad to be expelled within one year, not two, because their earnings help fund the country’s missile and nuclear weapons program. It also sought a total ban on oil imports. Instead, the resolution set caps of 4 million barrels a year on crude oil and 500,000 on refined oil products. That amounts to a roughly 90 percent cut.
The sanctions imposed Friday are the latest effort to get North Korea to enter negotiations and eventually abandon development of nuclear weapons. The previous round of sanctions, imposed in mid-September, was followed by more than two months of calm. That was shattered by a Nov. 29 test of what Pyongyang called its most powerful ICBM ever.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council that the most recent test was “another attempt by the Kim regime to masquerade as a great power while their people starve and their soldiers defect.”
Tensions have been rising over the threat posed by North Korea’s missile development. Pyongyang has insisted its program is purely defensive, to deter a U.S. invasion. It has pledged to never give up its nuclear weapons, which the United States and its allies say must be the goal of any negotiations.
The Trump administration has been pushing ever-greater U.N. sanctions, persuading other countries to enforce them to the hilt and downgrade their diplomatic relations and economic trade.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson initially said the United States would enter negotiations with no preconditions, but he quickly backtracked by acknowledging that Pyongyang shows no willingness to even talk about giving up its nuclear weapons.
Tillerson has been particularly critical of Russia and China for providing an economic pipeline to the North Korean government. Russia uses thousands of North Korean laborers, who earn the hard currency Pyongyang desperately needs. And China has exported crude oil to North Korea.
But sanctions against the North already are the toughest ever imposed, and U.S. officials have said they are running out of room to maneuver.
“President Trump has used just about every lever you can use, short of starving the people of North Korea to death, to change their behavior,” Homeland Security Adviser Thomas P. Bossert told reporters earlier this week. “And so we don’t have a lot of room left here to apply pressure to change their behavior.”
Bossert also said North Korea was behind a ransomware cyberattack known as WannaCry that infected computer systems around the world in May.
Previous sanctions have led to fuel shortages in North Korea, and Friday’s penalties are expected to cut deep as winter advances.
Last month, North Korea called the sanctions “brutal” and compared them to genocide.