U.S. could target North Korea textiles, oil at U.N.: diplomats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States could tighten a global economic noose on North Korea by pushing for further United Nations sanctions likely targeting Pyongyang’s textile exports and supplies of oil to the government, diplomats say.

FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The U.N. Security Council unanimously strengthened sanctions on North Korea on Aug. 5 for the eighth time since 2006. But diplomats say about $2 billion more in exports could be blacklisted to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The latest U.N. resolution aimed to slash a third from North Korea’s $3 billion annual exports by banning Pyongyang’s trade in coal, iron, iron ore, lead and seafood.

As U.S. and North Korean tensions have escalated since then, some diplomats predict the 15-member Security Council could soon negotiate on a ninth resolution. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday vowed to leave “no North Korean source of revenue untouched.”

“In particular, the U.S. will continue to request Chinese and Russian commitments not to provide the regime with economic lifelines and to persuade it to abandon its dangerous path,” they wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

China and Russia typically view only a long-range missile launch or nuclear weapon test as a trigger for possible further U.N. sanctions. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by China, Russia, the United States, France or Britain.

“There probably will be another resolution at some point, sadly,” said a senior Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We can divide up that $2 billion into other sectors and take another third off by cutting out the textile sector or something else.”

Textiles were North Korea’s second-biggest export after coal and other minerals in 2016, totaling $752 million, according to data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). Nearly 80 percent of the textile exports went to China, according to Chinese customs data.


Other measures could include a ban on North Korea’s national airline, cutting off oil for the government and military, high seas interdiction of ships and adding top Pyongyang officials to a blacklist to subject them to a global asset freeze and travel ban, diplomats said.

The military-controlled airline, Air Koryo, flies to Beijing and a few other cities in China, including Dandong, the main transit point for trade between the two countries. It also flies to Vladivostok in Russia, but flights to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kuwait have ended.

New sanctions would build on eight previous resolutions ratcheting up action against Pyongyang in response to five nuclear tests, four long-range ballistic missile tests and dozens of medium-range rocket launches.

A second council diplomat said there are likely to be few surprises for Pyongyang ally China - and Russia - “because this has been done so often” and Washington has foreshadowed possible sanctions targets.

A November resolution aimed to cut North Korea’s annual export revenue by a quarter - or $800 million - by slashing coal exports by 60 percent and banning the export of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and statues.

The Aug. 5 resolution also prohibits countries from increasing the number of North Koreans working abroad. Some diplomats suggested there could be a push for a complete ban on the use of North Korean workers abroad in a future sanctions resolution.

The United States and China typically agree on new sanctions before formally involving other council members, though Washington keeps Britain and France in the loop during the process and China talks with Russia.

Washington and Beijing agreed on the latest U.N. sanctions in a third of the time it took to negotiate the November resolution. The second council diplomat said the measures adopted this month were straightforward, which likely helped accelerate the talks.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler