Tough sanctions approved by U.N. could cost North Korea $1 billion in exports annually

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley vote during a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea sanctions on Saturday in New York.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley vote during a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea sanctions on Saturday in New York.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a sanctions resolution that the United States said was the strictest imposed “on any country in a generation,’’ banning North Korea from exporting many of its most lucrative products, ranging from coal to iron ore to seafood and even some of its artwork.

The tough new sanctions would slice $1 billion from North Korea’s total annual exports of $3 billion, the State Department said.

“This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime,” said United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. “This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.”


The U.S.-drafted resolution has been in the works since July 4, when North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska. That was followed up by another test July 28, which helped the United States persuade China and Russia, North Korea’s traditional allies, to overcome their opposition to the resolution.

President Trump, whose administration has been struggling on how to respond to North Korea’s recent actions, signaled his approval on Twitter. “The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!”

Trump has been at odds with China and Russia on a variety of issues, but on Saturday night the White House released a statement saying that the president “appreciates China’s and Russia’s cooperation in securing passage of this resolution. He will continue working with allies and partners to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to end its threatening and destabilizing behavior.”

If enforced, the biggest financial hit of the resolution will be the ban on coal, which alone brings in more than $400 million in revenue for Kim Jong Un’s government. The ban on the export of seafood, prized in Asia because of the relatively clean North Korean waters, will trim an additional $300 million from the country’s exports, according to the State Department.

The resolution also sets a cap on the number of North Korean guest workers abroad, a figure estimated to be at least 50,000 — with their salaries almost entirely paid to the government. And the resolution freezes the assets of the Mansudae Art Studio, which has been building Soviet-style statues and monuments for dictatorial governments around the world, mostly in Africa.


Another key measure is that the resolution slapped an asset freeze on the Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s primary bank for foreign currency exchange — something that the United States has long demanded.

The resolution will also allow the U.N. to ban specific vessels that are breaking sanctions from entering ports all over the world.

This is the eighth time since 2006 that the U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. Frustrated North Korea analysts were dubious that this latest measure would halt Pyongyang’s juggernaut toward the development of a workable nuclear warhead.

Objections by China and Russia led the resolution drafters to remove a clause that would have barred imports of fuel oil to North Korea. And more important, the resolution didn’t impose sanctions on the Chinese companies and individuals who have helped North Korea evade sanctions.

“The bottom line is that it’s the same old thing. It is not going to get implemented,’’ said a U.N. official who asked not to be quoted by name given the sensitivity of the issue.

“While the restrictions seem tough on the surface, they rely on the Chinese and Russians to enforce them,’’ said Anthony Ruggiero, an analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He said the resolution might actually be counterproductive in that it will allow China and Russia to claim they are cooperating in efforts to rein in North Korea.


“The U.S. government had been moving towards sanctioning Chinese companies and individuals, but they have backed away from that,’’ said Ruggiero. “I fear people in the Trump administration will now say, ‘Well, we can’t do anything more because we have to give the Chinese the chance to implement the new resolution.’”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday before leaving for a trip to Asia that the United States isn’t trying to overthrow Kim, but hopes sanctions will serve as “peaceful pressure” to bring his government to negotiations.

“We’re trying to convey to the North Koreans we are not your enemy, we are not your threat,” he added. “But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond.”

Kim, one of the youngest world leaders, took over with the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011, and has since accelerated the pace of missile and nuclear tests. In its official statements, North Korea has said it needs nuclear weapons to prevent Kim from being overthrown by the West in the manner of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Kadafi.

The resolution Saturday said that the United Nations regrets North Korea’s “massive diversion of its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and a number of expensive ballistic missile programs” while “over half of the people” in the country “suffer from major insecurities in food and medical care.’’

By Sunday afternoon in Pyongyang, the North Korean government had not responded publicly on the U.N.’s action.


But a week earlier, the government offered a damning comment after Trump signed a bill that imposed economic sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia. The official Korean Central News Agency quoted an unnamed official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who said, “The act of the U.S., which is so fond of rigging up sanctions law and brandishing the sanctions club against other sovereign states, is no better than a hooligan which cannot be allowed by international law as well.”


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9:15 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the White House.

8:45 p.m.: This article was updated to note comments by the North Korean government about economic sanctions imposed on the country in the past.

5:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a different response from President Trump.

5:50 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional background information and quotes from President Trump, Anthony Ruggiero and Rex Tillerson.

This article was originally published at 1:35 p.m.