UN Security Council Sets Harsh New Sanctions on North Korea

  • Measure aims to cut $1 billion a year from Pyongyang’s exports
  • Trump’s security adviser says ‘preventive’ war an option

North Korea Isn't Backing Down

The United Nations Security Council imposed the “most stringent” sanctions on North Korea that would ban exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood in response to Pyongyang’s testing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that could target the U.S.

The penalties agreed to on Saturday by all the 15 council members aim to cut North Korean exports by about $1 billion a year. They would also ban “the opening of new joint ventures or cooperative entities with” North Korea, and cap the number of North Koreans working in other countries at current levels. Existing joint ventures would also be prevented from expanding their operations.

“The price the North Korean leadership will pay for its continued nuclear and missile development will be the loss of one-third of its exports and hard currency,” said Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN. “This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.”

Some foreign-policy experts cautioned, though, that sanctions alone, while economically harmful, may not halt North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s push to develop atomic weapons. The move came as the U.S. national security adviser warned that President Donald Trump isn’t ruling out a “preventive war” to stop North Korea.

“China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!” Trump said in a Twitter message.

The UN sanctions probably won’t hinder North Korean leadership for now, Thomas Byrne, president of the New York-based Korea Society, said in a telephone interview.

Deeper Sanctions

“You need deeper sanctions over a longer period of time, like years, before you can see if North Korea changes its behavior,” Byrne said. “The sanctions will have an economic impact but little effect on the strategic intent to develop ballistic missiles.”

The U.S. and China had been negotiating the draft text released on Saturday for about a month. Sanctions against North Korea require buy-in from Beijing because it’s the isolated North Asian country’s biggest trading partner by far. Haley had recently blamed China and Russia for preventing stronger measures against Kim’s regime, but on Saturday she personally thanked the Chinese for their help.

The resolution also signaled a shift by the U.S., which declined to call a meeting of the Security Council after North Korea tested a second intercontinental ballistic missile in July. Haley said at the time that another resolution would be pointless.

“This was a gut punch to North Korea today,” Haley said in an interview on CNN. “They can either now take heed and say, OK, let’s stop -- let’s start being responsible and let’s see another avenue, or they can continue what they’re doing and the international community will respond.”

The resolution “condemns in the strongest terms” North Korea’s July 4 and July 28 missile tests, and adds new individuals and entities, including the Foreign Trade Bank, a state-owned bank that acts as North Korea’s “primary foreign exchange bank,” to a UN sanctions list.

Rocket Launches

The restrictions are the third set of sanctions imposed on North Korea in the past 18 months in an effort to halt the country developing its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. The Security Council imposed penalties in March 2016 and again in November after Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests and launched a rocket.

Trump isn’t ruling out a “preventive war” to stop North Korea from being able to threaten the U.S., National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in an interview with MSNBC done earlier in the week and broadcast on Saturday. The danger posed by North Korea was “a grave threat,” he said.

“If they had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective,” McMaster told MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt. All options, “and that includes a military option,” would be considered in response, he said.

Even so, the U.S. would prefer to resolve the threat “short of what would be a very costly war in terms of the suffering of, mainly, the South Korean people,” said McMaster.

North Korea’s regime is holding South Korea “hostage” given its conventional weapons capabilities that can be targeted at Seoul, he said. “What we have to do is everything we can to pressure this regime, to pressure Kim and those around him such that they conclude it is in their interest to denuclearize.”

Short of war, which military analysts and diplomats say would probably lead to a devastating counterattack on Seoul and its population of some 10 million people, sanctions are among the few options the U.S. and its allies have. Representatives of China and Russia said Saturday that they expect dialog, not military action, to be the way forward.

— With assistance by Andreo Calonzo

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