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North Korea

US clashes with China and Russia over North Korea sanctions during UN talk

North Korean ally China, backed by Russia, said the Security Council should reward Pyongyang for the ‘positive developments’ after the Trump-Kim meeting in June

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 12:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 10:47pm

The US was at odds with China at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday over enforcing sanctions on North Korea, at a time when tensions on the Korean peninsula seem to be easing amid diplomatic efforts at denuclearisation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned council members – including his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, who sat across the table – that “enforcement of Security Council sanctions must continue vigorously and without fail until we realise final, fully verified denuclearisation.”

“The members of the council must set the example on that effort,” he said.

Wang said the Security Council should consider easing the tough measures based on the “positive developments” after US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore in June.

China’s stance had the support of Russia, whose foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Moscow believed that certain sanctions, unrelated to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, should be eased.

“Further increase of sanctions goes beyond cutting off financing of banned missile and nuclear programmes, and is in fact a threat to North Korean citizens and would bring extreme socio-economic and humanitarian suffering,” said Lavrov, who added that the Security Council should send a clear signal in support of the positive momentum on the Korean peninsula.

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Pompeo, who chaired the meeting of the 15-member council, will travel to Pyongyang for further talks with counterparts there to ensure “final, fully verified denuclearisation of the DPRK” and that sanctions “must remain in effect and fully implemented” until then, his department said in a statement issued after the Security Council meeting.

America’s top diplomat said in the meeting that the US had evidence that sanctions restricting North Korean oil imports and coal exports were being violated, though he did not name any alleged violators, and he demanded that UN members ensure their enforcement.

Earlier this month, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, accused Russia of violating the sanctions.

China, North Korea’s ally, told the Security Council that the sanctions should be enforced in tandem with diplomatic efforts to persuade Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear and missile programmes.

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“China firmly believes that pressure is not the end,” said Wang, the foreign minister. “Both implementing sanctions and promoting political settlement are equally important.”

Wang noted that there were provisions in Security Council resolutions for the body to modify sanctions if North Korea complies. The Security Council has unanimously toughened sanctions since 2006 in an effort to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear efforts.

He said that “given the positive developments”, the council “needs to consider invoking in due course this provision to encourage the DPRK and other relevant parties to move denuclearisation further ahead”.

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Trump said on Wednesday that Washington and Pyongyang had made “a tremendous amount of progress” on denuclearisation since last year. “No rockets, no missiles, no nuclear tests – you know, for over a year,” Trump said during a press conference in New York.

Pompeo also said a second summit meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would also likely occur “after October”.

Pompeo said Wednesday that he had accepted an invitation from Kim, delivered by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho during their meeting in New York, to make a third trip to Pyongyang next month.

Trump cancelled his secretary of state’s previously planned third trip in late August, blaming China for not helping to make sufficient progress on denuclearisation negotiations.

On Thursday, Pompeo was quoted by his spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Twitter as telling the Security Council: “We must not forget what has brought us this far: the historic international pressure campaign this Council made possible through the sanctions it imposed.”

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“It’s our collective responsibility to fully implement all UNSC resolutions,” Pompeo added.

Michael Green, a senior vice-president at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said China had a mixed record on upholding the sanctions against North Korea.

“China has been pretty good on enforcement of sanctions at the border” of the two countries, said Green, who served on the staff of the US National Security Council under President George W. Bush. “But China has not been so good at [enforcing sanctions on] ship-to-ship transfers, banking and things that are not controlled at the border.”