UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - World powers on Wednesday agreed to expand sanctions to punish North Korea for its recent nuclear test and weapons program, as Russia said it expected the North to launch another provocative missile test.
The draft U.N. sanctions resolution, written by the United States and endorsed by the four other permanent Security Council members, plus Japan and South Korea, was discussed at a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation Security Council.
“If all goes well we’re expecting a vote on the resolution on Friday,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Delegations will now send the draft to their capitals to see if it is acceptable.
The agreement ended more than two weeks of closed-door negotiations. The United States, Britain, France, Japan and South Korea all demanded tough sanctions against Pyongyang for its May nuclear test, but Russia and China held out for a milder resolution to avoid provoking North Korea.
The draft “condemns in the strongest terms” North Korea’s nuclear test last month and “demands that (it) not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology.”
The end result reflected compromises to satisfy Chinese and Russian objections. Beijing and Moscow had opposed language in earlier drafts requiring all countries to inspect North Korea ships carrying suspicious cargo that might violate a partial U.N. trade and arms embargo.
In the latest version, the Security Council “calls upon” states to inspect suspicious sea, air and land cargoes but does not demand it. However, the draft resolution would require countries to deny fuel to any suspicious North Korean ships and direct them to dock at “an appropriate and convenient port.”
Once docked, the draft says local authorities would conduct a “required inspection” and must seize and destroy any cargo transported in violation of U.N. sanctions.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin explained this point, saying that for the country controlling the port, “it is your responsibility and you are being called upon by the Security Council to do this inspection.”
North Korea has angered the region and countries beyond in the past few weeks with missile launches, threats to attack the South and a nuclear test, prompting U.S. and South Korean forces to raise a military alert on the peninsula to one of its highest since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Cranking up tension, Russia’s military said it had information on plans for another missile launch.
“We have certain information about the type and characteristics of the missile. However, we do not have accurate data on the timing,” Interfax news agency quoted a senior military source as saying.
The United States had also been pushing for a mandatory expansion of financial sanctions against Pyongyang. Arms-related financing is banned, while the draft urges, but does not require, states to avoid any new financial deals with North Korea except for humanitarian or development projects.
The resolution also expands a partial U.N. arms embargo to ban the export of all weapons by North Korea but allows Pyongyang to continue purchasing small arms, provided such sales are reported to the United Nations.
“This sanctions regime, if passed by the Security Council, will bite, and bite in a meaningful way,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters.
Rice added that a total ban on North Korean arms exports would cut off a significant source of revenue for Pyongyang.
But requiring North Korea’s consent to search a ship cut into the sanction’s effectiveness. “We’re talking about dentures and not actual teeth,” said Korea Economic Institute President Jack Pritchard, a former U.S. envoy on North Korea.
Several diplomats said the latest text, which could undergo further adjustments before it is approved by the full council, was a watered-down version of an initially tougher draft aimed at expanding the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its first nuclear test in October 2006.
Until recently, those sanctions had been widely ignored and unenforced. The new draft urges countries to implement the 2006 sanctions spelled out in resolution 1718.
Analysts in Washington said the effectiveness of the new sanctions, as in previous measures, depended on if China were angry enough to enforced the measures seriously.
“China’s anger regarding North Korea is a function of the degree to which they see North Korea really upsetting the status quo and stability in the region,” said Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
RUSSIA‘S “HEAVY HEART”
Chinese envoy Liu Zhenmin made clear to reporters that Beijing, the nearest North Korea has to a major ally, was satisfied with the draft.
“I hope countries will endorse the text,” he said.
Churkin said the draft was “adequate and balanced,” but that Moscow was backing sanctions “with a heavy heart.”
With Russia and China on board, Western countries hope for a unanimous vote to send a signal of international unity.
Council members Vietnam and Libya, however, are seen as potential hurdles to a unanimous vote, Western diplomats say.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee spoke about the heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, linking North’s threats and flurry of military activity to Kim Jong-il paving the way for his son to succeed him.
“Kim Jong-il is bloodshot in the eyes trying to build a succession plan to pass on power by creating tension ... while ignoring the desperate plight of his starving people and the impoverished state of the economy,” he said in an address to troops, according to a military aide on Wednesday.
“The North Korean regime is an unethical, irresponsible and inhumane group which puts its own survival ahead of the lives and happiness of the people.”
Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons, Paul Eckert in Washington, Conor Sweeney in Moscow and Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Philip Barbara