x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tough sanctions for North Korea

The UN Security Council approved tough new sanctions against North Korea, but there is fear that this might provoke a third atomic test.

NEW YORK // The UN Security Council approved tough new sanctions against North Korea yesterday in response to its recent nuclear test, showing a rare united front but heightening tensions on the peninsula. Members unanimously agreed to impose sanctions on Pyongyang's weapons exports and financial dealings, and allow inspections of suspect cargo in ports and on the high seas, after more than two weeks of closed-door negotiations.

But analysts fear the compromise resolution will provoke the prickly Stalinist regime to conduct a third atomic test, and South Korea has already sent hundreds more marines to its northern border in readiness for confrontation. Council negotiations pitted five powers demanding tough sanctions against Pyongyang for its May 25 nuclear test - the United States, Britain, France, Japan and South Korea - against the North's allies, Russia and China, which argued against harsh penalties.

Rosemary DiCarlo, a US ambassador to the UN, said all 15 council members had collectively demonstrated a "strong and united international response" to "unacceptable" behaviour from Pyongyang. "North Korea chose a path of provocation. As President [Barack] Obama has said, actions must have consequences," said Ms DiCarlo. "This resolution will give us new tools to impair North Korea's ability to proliferate and threaten international peace and stability."

The resolution mandates a sanctions committee to extend the number of institutions already subject to punitive measures and place individuals under similar restrictions. It also calls on UN members to search cargo in ports and airports and vessels on the high seas, possibly directing them to a nearby port for inspection. Ms DiCarlo described the new measures as "innovative, robust and unprecedented", providing member states with guidelines to "co-operate in the inspection of ships and aircraft suspected to be carrying weapons of mass destruction or other banned goods".

But despite the strong words, western diplomats privately described the text as a diluted version of an initially tough draft resolution that now represents a moderate expansion of the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its first nuclear test in October 2006. Analysts suggest the impact of the resolution on North Korea's economy and weapons programme will be largely determined by how readily it is enforced, noting that sanctions imposed after the 2006 test did not achieve the desired effect.

China's envoy to the UN, Zhang Yesui, had warned members that inspecting North Korea's cargo was a "complex and sensitive" issue that must be handled "prudently" without the "use, or threat of the use, of force". "It needs to be stressed that the sovereignty, territorial integrity and legitimate security concerns and development interests of the DPRK should be respected," said Mr Yesui, using the formal title of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The action of the Security Council should not adversely impact [on] the livelihood and development of the DPRK or the humanitarian assistance to the country." Equally problematic is a fear that Pyongyang will react to the resolution with a third atomic test, having previously demonstrated provocative responses to Security Council censure. The North followed up last month's nuclear test by launching short-range missiles, renouncing the armistice on the Korean peninsula and threatening possible attacks on its neighbour.

Diplomats from the council's five permanent members have struggled to achieve consensus on tackling North Korea, in part because of the country's unpredictable and prickly nature. Its ailing leader, Kim Jong Il, has escalated a stand-off with the US and South Korea in recent months as he reportedly prepares to hand over power to his third and youngest son, Jong Un, who has recently been dubbed the "Brilliant Comrade".

Won Tae-jae, a spokesman for the South Korean defence ministry, said "common sense" indicates Pyongyang is preparing for another nuclear test, adding: "Recently, we have braced ourselves against all predictable possibilities regarding nuclear or missile situations." Seoul ordered hundreds more marines to reinforce garrisons on Yeonpyeong and Baekryeong islands, along the disputed Yellow Sea border, where the rival nations' navies fought deadly skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

jreinl@thenational.ae