UNITED NATIONS – After a month of deliberations and negotiations, the Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion off North Korea’s annual foreign revenue.
China and Russia, the council’s two permanent members who resisted new economic sanctions on North Korea, ultimately endorsed the resolution, saying the rogue nation’s recent provocations were unacceptable.
Last month, North Korea fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles within target range of the continental U.S. and Europe. Diplomats said this raised the stakes and elevated North Korea’s military and nuclear threat from regional to global.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the council’s solidarity, saying more days like this one were needed at the United Nations. She also personally thanked China for helping move the resolution from talk to action. The U.S., which had drafted and put forward the resolution, negotiated for more than a month with China over the text and final measures targeting Pyongyang.
“This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime,” said Ms. Haley, adding the council had put the country and its leadership “on notice” and “what happens next is up to North Korea.”
Both China and Russia urged a return to talks with North Korea and told the Security Council that the U.S. must abandon its military exercises with South Korea and dismantle the missile-defense system in South Korea known as Thaad because North Korea perceived that as a threat and it undermined the security of the region.
“We stress that additional restrictions cannot be an end to themselves, they need to be a tool to engage in dialogue,” said Russia’s new ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nebenzia.
The nine-page resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood.
The resolution also prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and bans countries from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.
Diplomats and sanctions experts have long warned that export revenues, even remittances from foreign workers, are cycled back to North Korea’s military and nuclear programs.
A Security Council diplomat offered this estimate on North Korea’s foreign revenue earnings in 2017: $295 million from seafood; $251 million from iron and iron ore, and $400 million from coal trade.
North Koreans work in China, Russia and the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf in a variety of businesses ranging from factories to restaurants and nightclubs and are estimated to send home several billion dollars in revenue, a large portion of which the government claims, according to U.N. sanctions experts.
The new resolution restricts North Korea’s technology trade and tightens enforcement of sanctions on North Korean vessels by banning violators from entering ports around the world.
Under the resolution, North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which handles foreign exchange, will be added the U.N.’s sanctions list that freezes the assets of targeted entities.
It remains to be seen whether the new sanctions will deter North Korea’s pursuit of advanced ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons or bring its leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.
North Korea’s economy has managed to stay afloat largely because China, its main trade partner, and Russia and some African nations haven’t fully enforced existing U.N. sanctions. The U.S. Treasury in June sanctioned Chinese entities — primarily banks and shipping companies — and individuals for violating sanctions and conducting trade that contributed to North Korea’s military and nuclear program.
China’s Ambassador Liu Jieyi said his country denounced unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and said action against North Korea must be through the U.N. mechanism. Mr. Liu told the council he welcomed the U.S. position that it wasn’t seeking regime change in North Korea.
“China has always been firmly opposed to chaos and conflict in the [Korean] peninsula,” Mr. Liu said.
Although China and Russia have pushed for a resumption of the six-party talks with North Korea, disagreement remains on how to bring Washington and Pyongyang to the table. China and Russia have called for a freeze-for-freeze plan under which North Korea would halt any more military or nuclear action and the U.S. would end its military exercises with South Korea.
The U.S. has rejected this proposal, saying it would only consider negotiations if North Korea took a concrete step to show good faith. North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and fired 14 ballistic missiles since 2006, when the Security Council imposed sanctions on the country calling for it to halt its nuclear and military program.
“This is not just about the region, it’s about the world,” Ms. Haley told reporters on Friday. “The six-party talks will resume if North Korea decides to stop its behavior.”