UN discussing easing sanctions on North: Interfax

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UN discussing easing sanctions on North: Interfax

A health official conducts anti-epidemic work at the entrance of Pyongsong city in South Pyongan Province, North Korea on Wednesday. [AP/YONHAP]

A health official conducts anti-epidemic work at the entrance of Pyongsong city in South Pyongan Province, North Korea on Wednesday. [AP/YONHAP]

 
The United Nations Security Council is discussing easing international sanctions on North Korea in consideration of the economic difficulties caused by Covid-19, according to Russian media reports.
 
Russia's Interfax news agency on Saturday quoted sources saying, “There is a mood within the Security Council that it can take symbolic measures [related to easing sanctions against North Korea],” and that “there will be no change even if sanctions are lifted because North Korea is closed due to Covid-19.”
 
North Korea has faced serious economic pressure throughout the past year, including from ongoing international sanctions against its development of nuclear weapons and missiles, the Covid-19 pandemic that forced it to close its borders, and a series of floods and other natural disasters.
 
Economic hardship in the North, which is rarely acknowledged by state media, has received frequent mention in the past year, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaking of the “Arduous March” for the first time on record in April.
 
The term refers to a period of mass starvation brought on by a general economic crisis from 1994 to 1998 in North Korea following the collapse of aid from former Eastern Bloc countries as the Cold War ended.
 
North Korean media has also openly highlighted the seriousness of food shortages almost daily, raising speculation from outside observers that the country is attempting to garner international sympathy and aid.
 
Regarding the idea of lifting sanctions on North Korea, Interfax added, “The proposal to ease sanctions on North Korea is still on the negotiating table of the Security Council, but the United States put the brakes on immediately.”
 
While the North often blames the United States for its food and energy shortages, Voice of America (VOA) on Thursday quoted an unnamed U.S. State Department Official as saying, “The [North] has created significant barriers to the delivery of assistance by closing its borders and rejecting offers of international aid, while also limiting the personnel responsible for implementing and monitoring existing humanitarian projects” — putting the blame for the country’s humanitarian crisis squarely on its government.
 
He added, “We remain concerned about the human rights situation in North Korea. The [North] continues to exploit its own citizens and divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.”
 
The interview follows the official position of the United States, which maintains that sanctions must be kept in place if there is no substantial change in the North Korean nuclear issue.
 
Regarding the Interfax report, Shin Beom-chul, head of the Foreign Affairs and Security Center at the Research Institute for Economy and Society, said, “China and Russia’s stance on sanctions against North Korea has been highlighted through the Russian media report on discussions at the Security Council.”
 
The two countries have repeatedly voiced their preference for dialogue over sanctions where the North's nuclear weapons and missile development is concerned.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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