UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to impose a broad set of additional financial, military, and trade sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests. It also called on states for the first time to seize banned North Korean weapons and technology aboard ships on the high seas.
While the 15-nation council stopped short of authorizing military action to enforce these measures, its unanimous condemnation of North Korea represented a diplomatic blow for the country's ailing leader, Kim Jong Il, who has previously counted on China and Russia to derail efforts to impose sanctions.
After the vote, China's U.N. ambassador, Yesui Zhang, said that his government was "firmly opposed to the nuclear test" and that North Korean actions had "impaired" international efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. But he urged countries, apparently the United States, to "act prudently" in responding to North Korea, and he insisted that "under no circumstance should there be the use of force or threats of the use of force."
At the White House, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution's financial sanctions were "very robust" and had "teeth that will bite in North Korea." For instance, she said, a provision banning all arms exports from North Korea would cut off a major source of foreign revenues that can be used for its nuclear programs.
The United States maintains that such sanctions offer the greatest prospects for disrupting the country's nuclear and ballistic missile trade.
The Treasury Department in 2005 targeted Banco Delta Asia, based in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau, alleging it was involved in laundering counterfeit U.S. currency for North Korea. The Treasury action had wide repercussions, forcing all U.S. banks and many leading financial institutions around the world to curtail dealings with North Korea to avoid any similar taint.
But this resolution was carefully crafted to inflict as little economic pain as possible on ordinary Koreans, U.S. and other council diplomats said, citing an exemption for the import of humanitarian goods and funds for economic development and denuclearization efforts. The council declined to impose a full-scale economic blockade that would severely curtail a boom in North Korean trade. "This is not a trade embargo," said Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador, Philip Parham.
The Security Council's action marked an escalation in the United Nations' effort to compel North Korea to restrain its nuclear activities and resume six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. The council is set to consider an asset freeze and travel ban on additional individuals and state companies linked to Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile program.
Yesterday's action follows more than two weeks of intensive negotiations among the council's five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France - and Japan and South Korea. It required a series of concessions by the United States, Japan, and their European allies, including the elimination of a provision that would make financial sanctions mandatory.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said his government had agreed to support the resolution only after the United States and its partners agreed to add language that would exclude the possibility of using force. China, meanwhile, insisted on an exemption for it and other suppliers from an arms embargo, allowing the sale of small arms and light weapons, including the signature AK-47 used by North Korea's giant military, according to council diplomats.
The Obama administration praised the council for sending a "strong and unified response" to North Korea's nuclear activities. "North Korea chose a path of provocation," Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. ambassador for special political affairs, told the council. "This resolution will give us new tools to impair North Korea's ability to proliferate and threaten international stability."
Resolution 1874 condemns North Korea in the "strongest terms" and demands that it cease any future nuclear or ballistic missile tests. It requires North Korea to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country and to provide them with greater access to documents, individuals, and facilities linked to its most sensitive military programs.
The resolution is designed to reinvigorate efforts to enforce a range of sanctions that were imposed, but never implemented, on North Korea after its first nuclear test in October 2006.