North Korea sanctions in the works

Key world powers agreed Wednesday on a draft of a United Nations resolution that would sharply increase export and financial sanctions against North Korea as punishment for its recent nuclear weapons and missile tests.

After more than two weeks of debate, the United States, Britain and France joined North Korea’s traditional protectors, China and Russia, in signing off on the draft. The full 15-member U.N. Security Council is expected to approve the resolution Friday, expressing its “gravest concern” over North Korea’s nuclear detonation last month.

Diplomats said adoption of the draft by the five permanent members of the Security Council underscored the determination of world powers to disapprove of North Korea’s weapons tests, which they consider a threat to stability in a tense and heavily armed region.

The five nations, however, backed down on the key issue of whether U.N. members should be required to stop and search North Korean ships on the high seas suspected of carrying banned goods. The draft resolution says nations will be urged but not required to search ships in such circumstances.


It also says that if North Korean ships refuse requests to be searched, the countries interdicting them must refuse to provide them port services such as refueling, a provision that analysts believe could hinder North Korea’s long-distance shipping.

Especially important was the support of China, which has generally balked at punishing North Korea and resisted U.N. sanctions, but is growing uneasy about rising tensions in the area.

The draft resolution also reflects a tougher attitude on the part of the Obama administration, which came to office vowing greater engagement with North Korea.

Although administration officials continue to say that their top goal is to restart the stalled international disarmament talks with North Korea, many privately say that they have given up hope of voluntary disarmament, and are shifting their focus to simply blocking Pyongyang from trading in nuclear and missile equipment.


Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, predicted that the sanctions, if approved, “will bite, and will bite in a meaningful way.”

In preparing the resolution, diplomats weighed the possibility of military retaliation from Pyongyang, which has declared that it would view high seas interdictions as an act of war. Control of North Korea is believed to be in the midst of changing hands as leader Kim Jong Il’s health declines, and U.S. officials theorize that key players have been seeking to prove their nationalist credentials to one another.

In addition to import and export restrictions, the draft resolution includes an array of financial sanctions. The provisions call for U.N. members to prevent any financial transactions related to North Korea’s nuclear or missile programs, or anything else related to weapons of mass destruction.

They would also bar North Korea from access to grants, financial assistance and certain loans.

The diplomatic effort began after North Korea undertook its second nuclear test, on May 25. The U.N. resolution augments sanctions that were adopted, but essentially never implemented, after North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006.

The Obama administration worked hard to persuade China to sign on to the deal. U.S. officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, warned that if other world powers wouldn’t take a stand on the North Korean threat, the United States, Japan and South Korea would strengthen their military alliance and add to military assets in northeast Asia, a prospect that irked China.

Experts said a key question now is how vigorously the small number of nations that have the most interaction with North Korea, a group led by China, will fully enforce the resolution.

“A lot depends on implementation,” said L. Gordon Flake, a longtime Korea watcher and executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, a think tank in Washington.


Some observers remained skeptical that the new round of sanctions would persuade Pyongyang to halt its arms programs, when so many earlier efforts have failed.

“It’s another Groundhog Day,” said John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.