March 1, 2016 / 2:09 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. delays vote on tough new North Korea sanctions at Russia's request

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution to dramatically expand sanctions on North Korea after its recent nuclear test and satellite launch has been delayed to Wednesday after Russia negotiated changes in the U.S.-Chinese drafted text.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a joint meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the Korean People's Army (KPA) Committee of the WPK in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 4, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

Last week the United States presented the 15-nation council with the draft resolution that would significantly tighten restrictions after the Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 rocket launch, to create what it described as the toughest U.N. sanctions regime in two decades.

The vote, first scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, is now planned for 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) on Wednesday, the council said.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations said in a statement the vote was rescheduled after “Russia invoked a procedural 24-hour review of the resolution.”

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters “it’s a resolution which is necessary, which the Security Council needs to adopt because of the certain challenges coming from DPRK (North Korea).”

“We did have a few issues to take care of and we discussed them with the U.S. delegation and I think they accommodated some of our concerns,” he said. “Have they accommodated all of our concerns? Not entirely.”

After nearly two months of bilateral negotiations that at one point involved U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, China agreed to support the unusually tough measures intended to persuade its close ally North Korea to abandon its atomic weapons program.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 because of its four nuclear tests and multiple rocket launches.

The expanded sanctions, if adopted, would require inspections of all cargo going to and from North Korea and blacklisting North Koreans active in Syria, Iran and Vietnam.

Washington had wanted the council to adopt the resolution last weekend but Russia demanded more time to study it.

The draft, seen by Reuters, would require U.N. member states to conduct mandatory inspections of all cargo passing through their territory to or from North Korea to look for illicit goods. Previously states only had to do this if they had reasonable grounds to believe there was illicit cargo.

The list of explicitly banned luxury goods will be expanded to include luxury watches, aquatic recreational vehicles, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000, lead crystal items and recreational sports equipment.

Pyongyang denied the Feb. 7 launch involved banned ballistic missile technology, saying it was a peaceful satellite launch.

The official North Korean news agency KCNA said in a commentary on Monday its “position as a satellite manufacturer and launcher will never change (and) ... space development is not something to be given up because of someone’s ‘sanctions’.”

It called the proposed sanctions “a wanton infringement on (North Korea’s) sovereignty and grave challenge to it.”

The proposal would also close a gap in the U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang by banning all weapons imports and exports.

There would also be an unprecedented ban on the transfer to North Korea of any item that could directly contribute to the operational capabilities of its armed forces, such as trucks that could be modified for military purposes.

Other proposed measures include a ban on all supplies of aviation and rocket fuel to North Korea, a requirement for states to expel North Korean diplomats engaging in illicit activities, and blacklisting 16 North Korean individuals and 12 entities, including the National Aerospace Development Agency, or NADA, the body responsible for February’s rocket launch.

Candidates for the blacklist include a senior official in North Korea’s long-range missile program, senior officials at NADA, officials for Tanchon Commercial Bank in Syria and Vietnam, and Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) representatives in Iran and Syria.

The previous draft would have blacklisted 17 individuals but the proposed designation of a KOMID representative in Russia was dropped from the latest version.

“He’s not even in Russia, that’s the problem,” Churkin said. “That’s why we were surprised he appeared in the first place.”

There is also an exception for transshipments of Russian coal via the North Korean port of Rajin. In 2013 Russia reopened a railway link with North Korea, from the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to Rajin, to export coal and import goods from South Korea and other Asian countries.

There is also an exemption on the ban on aviation fuel to allow foreign civilian passenger airlines to travel to and from North Korea.

In addition to NADA, North Korean entities to be blacklisted include the Academy of National Defense Sciences, Chongchongang Shipping Co and the Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry.

Also new, countries will be required, not just encouraged, to freeze the assets of North Korean entities linked to Pyongyang’s nuclear or missile programs and to prohibit the opening of new branches or offices of North Korean banks or to engage in banking correspondence with them.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Michael Perry and James Dalgleish

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