By Farnaz Fassihi
UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a sanctions resolution aimed at penalizing North Korea for its nuclear-weapons program, cutting the country's annual revenue by about $800 million through limits on the amount of coal it can export.
The resolution was supported by China, North Korea's closest ally, which said the security situation in the region had grown "dire."
For three months, diplomats, led by the U.S., negotiated over how to punish North Korea for repeated violations of United Nations sanctions banning the country from firing ballistic missiles and conducting nuclear tests. North Korea conducted its last and largest nuclear test on Sept. 9.
The last round of U.N. sanctions, in March, had failed to deter North Korea. Provisions meant to prevent the suffering of ordinary people by allowing certain types of trade were exploited by government officials to the benefit of the state, U.S. officials said.
In response, diplomats moved to curb North Korea's lucrative export of coal, its single largest source of revenue, estimated at more than $1.2 billion a year. The challenge for U.S. and its European allies on the Security Council was to persuade China, which remained the only country to import coal from North Korea and has been weary of drastic measures that would destabilize North Korea's economy, to go along.
Complicating the negotiations, diplomats said, Russia inserted itself into the bilateral negotiations between China and the U.S., delaying talks by raising its own concerns about the text of the resolution.
"The whole thing was difficult to overcome," said a Security Council diplomat. "The Chinese drove a very hard bargain...but something has changed in the Chinese calculus." The diplomat added that China appeared fed up and embarrassed by the behavior of North Korea.
China said it wanted to avoid a deterioration of security in the region, where it shares an 880-mile border with North Korea.
"The resolution reaffirms the need to safeguard the stability of the Korean peninsula," said China's ambassador to the U.N., Liu Jieyi. "The current situation in Korean peninsula is sensitive, complex and dire."
Chinese experts say Beijing's decision to target a key source of Pyongyang's income was meant to admonish North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for his persistence in pursuing nuclear weapons.
"The political message encapsulated in the resolution is more important than the specific sanctions that it spells out," said Yang Xiyu, a Korean affairs expert and seniorfellow at the China Institute of International Studies, a Chinese Foreign Ministry-affiliated think tank.
The resolution was hailed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever imposed by the Security Council and called on all member states to ensure they are fully implemented.
Mr. Ban said North Korea's actions "pose an ever growing threat to regional security and the global nonproliferation regime."
Its goal, diplomats said, was to starve North Korea of hard currency that it redirects to military and nuclear programs and to bring it back to the negotiating table.
North Korea hasn't reacted to the most-recent sanctions but its response to previous sanctions, imposed by the U.N. since 2006, has been marked by defiance both in action and rhetoric.
The new sanctions will cap North Korea's coal exports at about $400 million or 7.5 million metric tons a year. Also banned are exports of copper, nickel, silver and zinc, which provide an additional $100 million a year in revenue, and the sale of artistic statues, which generates tens of millions.
The resolution also bans income from properties owned by North Korea abroad; further restricts banking transactions; and designates 10 individuals and 11 entities involved in nuclear and ballistic-missile programs for sanctions.
The resolution tightens restrictions on transportation to and from North Korea and bans sales of new nautical vessels and helicopters. It prohibits countries from dealing with any vessels flagged by North Korea and requires all cargo -- including passenger luggage, to be inspected.
Diplomats acknowledged that the effectiveness of the sanctions would depend on whether member states that have trade and diplomatic dealings with North Korea would adhere to the resolution and enforce the new restrictions.
"No resolution in New York will likely, tomorrow, persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons," said U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. "But this resolution imposes unprecedented costs on the DPRK regime for defying this Council's demands."
China, the world's largest coal producer and consumer, is the only importer of North Korean coal, according to U.S. officials, a trade it conducts as a way of propping up its longtime ally. Such imports dipped for a few months after the United Nations passed a resolution in March that sought to curb North Korean exports of coal, iron and iron ore, but have recovered in recent months.
In the first 10 months of this year, China bought 18.5 million tons of North Korean coal, valued at roughly $877 million, compared with 16.4 million tons, worth $902 million, in the corresponding period a year earlier, according to Chinese customs data. U.S. officials said that coal imported from NorthKorea constitutes a minor amount of the overall coal used by China and it could easily be replaced by other sources.
--Chun Han Wong contributed to this article.
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 30, 2016 16:45 ET (21:45 GMT)
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