U.S., China near deal on sanctions against the North

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U.S., China near deal on sanctions against the North

The United States and China may be nearing a resolution on new UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, according to diplomats.

“We have been working very hard for some time,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi told Reuters on Thursday, “and we certainly hope that this is going to be a consensus resolution.”

Washington has been hurrying to complete a draft of the resolution after North Korea’s first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch on July 4 and second launch on July 28. A new resolution was passed by the 15-member Security Council in June, but it only expanded the council’s blacklist of individuals and entities and did not introduce any new measures.

On Wednesday, the United States passed its latest sanctions bill, which targets North Korea’s foreign crude oil supplies, forced overseas labor and online gambling. Washington is now pushing for stronger measures in the latest Security Council resolution, which may include an oil embargo, prohibiting North Korean laborers from working overseas, a global ban on its state-controlled civilian airline, Air Koryo, barring Chinese banks and entities from doing business with the North and possibly adding North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the sanctions blacklist.

But the recent progress between Beijing and the United States may face opposition from Moscow, which has been receiving updates on the progress of the draft resolution from China, and which denies that North Korea’s latest launches were ICBMs, contrary to Washington and Seoul’s military assessments as well as Pyongyang’s own claims.

According to Reuters, newly appointed Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said an agreement between Washington and Beijing “doesn’t mean there is an agreement between the P-5 members,” referring to the five veto-wielding permanent members of the New York-based council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

However France and the United Kingdom, as well as Japan, have pushed to speed along passing a new sanctions resolution against the North.

Nebenzia also said Security Council sanctions should “focus on those who carry actual responsibility for the crises,” Russia’s state-run news agency, TASS, reported, and that “restrictions should not harm civilians or social and economic development.” He added that sanctions should include conditions for their removal and not be used to overthrow “unwanted regimes.”

On Tuesday, the day before the United States enacted its latest round of sanctions against North Korea, Iran and Russia, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley met with Nebenzia, who began his post at the UN the week before. According the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Haley and Nebenzia discussed North Korea’s provocations, including its recent missile tests.

Haley said in a statement at the end of last month the “time for talk is over” and that a new UN Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value.” She then called on China to “decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step.”

Despite Moscow’s reservations or Washington’s rhetoric, French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre spoke to reporters after a Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, echoing Ambassador Liu’s comments by saying that there is “some progress towards resolution,” adding, “the sooner the better.”

Diplomatic sources say a draft resolution may be circulated amongst all the members of the council within the week.

The Security Council has implemented sanctions on North Korea since it carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, and UNSC resolutions 2270 and 2321, passed last year after Pyongyang’s fourth and fifth nuclear tests, are considered the strongest measures to date.

The 27-nation Asean Regional Forum (ARF) kicks off Saturday in Manila, a rare occasion when top diplomats of all the six-party nations - China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas - to gather in one spot. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are expected to be high on the agenda at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) regional security gathering, and Washington is expected to speak to its partners about what they can do to increase pressure on the regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who called on countries to suspend or downgrade their diplomatic relations with the regime in a speech at the Security Council in April, is expected to raise the issue of suspending North Korea’s membership to the ARF during the forum. He is also expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the ARF. Tillerson and Lavrov had a phone conversation on Thursday to discuss the North’s ICBM launch on July 28 and a possible Security Council response, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, but Lavrov reportedly called for all parties to exercise “restraint” and resume negotiations as soon as possible, as is Moscow’s usual position.

Observers will look to see if South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha meets her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho, as the Moon Jae-in government has pushed for dialogue with Pyongyang alongside sanctions.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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