The United Nations Security Council edged closer to imposing new sanctions on North Korea with an emergency strategy session Tuesday and a unanimous condemnation of Pyongyang’s latest missile test.
The council, including North Korea’s ally and protector China, met hours after warning Pyongyang that sanctions are a possibility. A statement issued Monday said the body agreed to “closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures including sanctions.”
The statement is significant because it indicates a willingness by China to publicly tie additional sanctions to continued North Korean provocations. China has made similar links before agreeing to previous rounds of United Nations penalties, which are aimed at coercing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
“The members of the Security Council expressed their utmost concern over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance of the Security Council,” the statement condemning the May 21 ballistic missile launch said.
Additional sanctions were on the table for the special closed session called by the United States, Japan and South Korea, but U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had signaled ahead of time that a resolution proposing new penalties was not yet ready. Haley was in Turkey for diplomatic meetings and was represented by a deputy.
“We’re doing that now, in terms of getting another resolution together looking at sanctions and how were gonna continue to force it, because this is the same movie that keeps playing,” Haley said in an interview broadcast Monday on NBC’s Today Show.
The U.S. message to North Korea is simple, she said: “We don’t want to start a fight, so don’t give us a reason to have one.”
The Trump administration has made a public effort to reassure North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the United States does not intend to try to force him from office. The assurances are meant to lower tension that has risen markedly since Trump was elected, and answer one of China’s concerns as it tries to restrain its recalcitrant ally.
Although North Korea has made a show of force for new U.S. leaders in the past, the threat is higher now because of North Korea’s expanding nuclear capabilities.
The United States called for new sanctions last month, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson led a special Security Council discussion of what Washington considers the world’s most volatile and pressing threat. Negotiations for additional penalties typically take several weeks, but two North Korean missile tests conducted since then could prompt the council to move faster.
North Korea has developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs despite heavy international sanctions already in place, and Chinese firms are among those alleged to help North Korea evade import bans and other measures intended to starve those programs.
The scope of additional penalties is not clear, but Tillerson and other U.S. officials have warned that countries helping North Korea evade sanctions could themselves be targeted.
“In our views, the growing provocations by the North Korean regime must be matched with increased firmness by the Security Council,” French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said Monday. “That’s why we hope the Security Council will be able to move ahead in terms of better implementing the existing sanctions on one side, but also in terms of tightening the sanctions on the other side. We need to move ahead on both accounts.”
Delattre would give no details of the American proposal, but welcomed “a strong resolution that is being negotiated as we speak.”