UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to impose a broad set of additional financial, military and trade sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests. It also called on states for the first time to seize banned North Korean weapons and technology aboard ships on the high seas.
While the 15-nation council stopped short of authorizing military action to enforce these measures, its unanimous condemnation of North Korea represented a diplomatic blow for the country’s ailing leader Kim Jong Il, who has previously counted on China and Russia to derail efforts to impose sanctions.
Following the vote, China’s U.N. ambassador, Yesui Zhang, said his government is “firmly opposed to the nuclear test,” and that North Korean actions have “impaired” international efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. But he urged countries, apparently the United States, to “act prudently” in responding to North Korea, and he insisted that “under no circumstance should there be the use of force or threats of the use of force.”
At the White House, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution’s financial sanctions were “very robust” and had “teeth that will bite in North Korea.” For instance, she said, a provision banning all arms exports from North Korea would cut off a major source of foreign revenues that can be used for its nuclear programs.
The United States maintains that such sanctions offer the greatest prospects for disrupting the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile trade.
The Security Council’s action marked an escalation in the United Nations’ effort to compel North Korea to restrain its nuclear activities and resume six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The council is set to consider an asset freeze and travel ban on additional individuals and state companies linked to Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.
Friday’s action follows more than two weeks of intensive negotiations among the council’s five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and Japan and South Korea. It required a series of concessions by the United States, Japan and their European allies, including the elimination of a provision that would make financial sanctions mandatory.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said his government had agreed to support the resolution only after the United States and its partners agreed to add language that would exclude the possibility of using force to compel by force compliance with the council demands. China, meanwhile, insisted on an exemption for it and other suppliers from an arms embargo, allowing the sale of small arms and light weapons, including the signature AK-47 used by North Korea’s giant military, according to council diplomats.
Resolution 1874 condemns North Korea in the “strongest terms” and demands that it cease any future nuclear or ballistic missile tests. It requires North Korea to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country and to provide them with greater access to documents, individuals and facilities linked to its most sensitive military programs.
The most controversial measure calls for the inspection of North Korean cargo on the high seas if there are “reasonable grounds” to believe it contains banned military equipment. But it remained unclear how the council would compel a North Korean ship to allow such a search, since there is no provision to force compliance.
Under the terms of the resolution, a foreign vessel is permitted to board a ship suspected of transporting banned North Korean weapons or equipment only if the country where the vessel is registered agrees. If not, the resolution requires that country to direct the ship to an “appropriate” port to be searched. North Korea has warned that it would consider any attempts to board its ships to be an act of war, and that it would respond with force.