US softens North Korea resolution ahead of UN vote


The UN Security Council was scheduled to vote Monday on a draft resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea after the United States toned down its demands in a bid to win support from Russia and China.

Washington has led the international drive to punish the rogue state after it detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device earlier this month.

The vote will be held at 6pm (22:00 GMT), the Ethiopian council presidency said.

The United States had originally pushed for a strict oil embargo, as well as a freeze on the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

A new draft text circulated late Sunday maintains an embargo on gas but would limit sales of oil to 500 000 barrels for three months from October 1 and 2-million barrels from January 1 for a period of 12 months, according to the text obtained by AFP.

Kim spared 

Kim would be spared from a UN blacklist that would have hit him with an assets freeze and a travel ban and punished him directly for the country’s military drive.

The proposed resolution, however, would slap a ban on textile exports from North Korea, but drop demands for a full halt to payments of North Korea workers.

It would add the name of North Korean senior official Pak Yong Sik, who helps direct the country’s missile industries, to the blacklist along with three other North Korean agencies.

Among other concessions the new text also softens the inspection by force of ships suspected of carrying cargo prohibited by the UN and drops a proposed assets freeze on the state-owned Air Koryo airline.

Britain and France — permanent veto-wielding Security Council members along with the US, China and Russia — have given Washington their strong backing.

It remained unclear whether Russia and China would support the new raft of sanctions.

The North’s two main backers, they are wary of anything that might force the collapse of the regime and the resulting exodus of refugees.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) says estimates suggest Pyongyang imports about 10 000 barrels of crude oil a day, almost all of it from China.

In addition, according to figures from the International Trade Centre, a joint World Trade Organization-United Nations agency, the North imported $115-million-worth of refined oil products — which could include petrol and aircraft fuel — from China last year. Another $1.7-million-worth came from Russia.

“We have been clear in close consultation with the Americans that oil has to be included as an element of sanctions,” South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-Wha told reporters.

Economic pressure 

Whatever final text was adopted, she hoped it would “have significant consequences in terms of greater economic pressure on North Korea.”

Washington has dangled the prospect of military action in the North, and threatened to cut economic ties with countries that continue to trade with the it—around 90 percent of the North’s external commerce is with China.

Kim Hyun-Wook, professor at the Seoul government’s Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP that Washington had softened its original “very strong draft proposal” because it was vital to keep Moscow and Beijing on board.

“It is only possible to criticize and rebuke China and Russia for not enforcing the sanctions if they vote for it at the UN Security Council,” he said.

‘Pay the price’ 

Early Monday, North Korea said it would not accept any chastisement over its nuclear and missile program, which it says is vital to stave off the threat of an American invasion.

If Washington does “rig up the illegal and unlawful ‘resolution’ on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the US pays due price,” its foreign ministry said, in a statement published by the official KCNA news agency.

The North has a long history of making florid threats against Washington and its allies without following through on them.

“The forthcoming measures to be taken by the DPRK will cause the US the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history,” the ministry said.

“The world will witness how the DPRK tames the US gangsters by taking (a) series of action tougher than they have ever envisaged.”

Pyongyang has staged a series of missile tests in recent months, culminating in an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared to bring much of the US mainland into range—ramping up tensions and earning itself a seventh set of UN Security Council sanctions.

It followed up with a sixth nuclear test on September 3, its largest to date, which it said was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile and prompted global outrage.

Monday’s vote is seen as a key test of resolve for the council, which united last month to adopt a resolution intended to reduce the impoverished country’s export earnings by up to a billion dollars.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that Beijing “approves further reactions and necessary measures by the UN Security Council” in response to the nuclear test.

He declined to be drawn on whether China was behind the weakening of the draft, saying it hoped the decision would be made “on the basis of full consultation and consensus.”