BRUSSELS The European Union is considering additional measures against North Korea following the approval of harsh new sanctions by the U.N. Security Council in order to show solidarity with South Korea and Japan, both major trade partners, diplomats said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has welcomed Wednesday's U.N. unanimous vote to expand existing sanctions following North Korea's latest nuclear test and rocket launch, saying the bloc would update its sanctions regime.
"There is scope for the European Union to adopt additional autonomous restrictive measures to complement and reinforce the new U.N. measures," said a diplomatic note seen by Reuters on the latest discussions.
Germany, France, Spain and Poland want to see what more the bloc can do in areas such as finance and insurance, as well as hitting more North Koreans with asset freezes.
Germany, one of seven EU member states to have an embassy in Pyongyang, also wants better monitoring of the "non-diplomatic" activities of North Korean envoys, EU diplomats said.
While far from Europe, North Korea is a concern to NATO and to the EU's Asian trade partners.
"This is about supporting our allies Japan and South Korea, who are directly threatened by North Korea's aggression," said one EU diplomat involved in the discussions on further measures.
The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan, which are both in range of North Korea's ballistic missiles, have phoned Mogherini in recent weeks to urge maximum pressure on Pyongyang.
But the EU's leverage over the isolated communist state is limited because Germany, Sweden and others are unwilling to cut diplomatic ties. Sweden, present in Pyongyang since the 1970s, is among those providing humanitarian aid to North Koreans.
Given that the United States says the new United Nations sanctions go further than any other U.N. sanctions regime in two decades, the EU's measures, once updated, also leave little room to go further and new steps still need to be discussed.
Trade between the 28-nation European Union and North Korea fell to just 34 million euros in 2014 from more than 300 million euros a decade ago.
EU foreign ministers have reinforced their sanctions several times in recent years to include asset freezes and bans on financing and the delivery of banknotes.
EU countries also cannot export arms or metals used in ballistic missile systems and are banned from selling gold, diamonds and luxury goods to North Korea. Joint ventures are outlawed.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)