GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States wants to exhaust every diplomatic option on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and to see loopholes in the North Korean sanctions regime closed, U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said on Friday.
“Sanctions have not had a real opportunity to bite as hard as we would like them to bite, and that comes from the fact that they have not been fully implemented,” Wood told a news conference in Geneva.
North Korea fired a second missile over Japan far out into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, deepening tension after Pyongyang’s recent test of its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb.
Washington has in the past accused China, North Korea’s main trading partner, of failing to apply enough economic pressure to its neighbor. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday that if China failed to implement the latest U.N. sanctions on North Korea, he would seek new financial sanctions against Beijing.
Wood, formally U.S. ambassador to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, said North Korea had exploited “gaping holes” in the sanctions regime to secretly acquire equipment for its ballistic missile and nuclear weapon programs: “We want to close those loopholes.”
Asked if war or a U.S. military strike was possible, Wood said: “We are not taking any options off the table but ... we are pursuing the diplomatic track right now.
“That’s where we are. We want to exhaust all diplomatic options.”
The United States wanted to see North Korea further isolated, with more countries breaking off or downgrading relations and cutting off trade.
He said China had the same interest as the United States in seeking the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and had helped to apply pressure on North Korea by supporting two U.N. Security Council resolutions.
But he said there was much more that China could do, and suggested that Beijing’s “unique leverage” was only just coming into play.
“We’re at a real inflection point with regard to China,” Wood said.
In a wide-ranging briefing on U.S. disarmament interests, Wood also reiterated President Donald Trump’s view that Iran was not fulfilling the spirit of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 deal that allowed Iran sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear program.
“If you look at what Iran is doing with regard to ballistic missile activity ... when you look at the support it is giving to the Assad regime in Syria, to Hezbollah, to Hamas, their funding and support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen ... Iran is not in any way, we think, fulfilling the aspirations of the JCPOA.”
He cited the preface of the JCPOA, which says the signatories anticipate that the agreement will “positively contribute to regional and international peace and security”.
Trump must decide next month whether Iran is complying with the deal.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Kevin Liffey