UN approves toughest sanctions on North Korea in 20 years

The UN Security Council unanimously approved the toughest sanctions on North Korea in two decades on Wednesday, reflecting growing anger at Pyongyang's latest nuclear test and rocket launch in defiance of a ban on all nuclear-related activity.

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The United States and North Korea's traditional ally China spent seven weeks negotiating the new sanctions, which include mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering North Korea by land, sea or air; a ban on all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang; and expulsion of diplomats from the North who engage in "illicit activities."

The U.S., its Western allies and Japan pressed for new sanctions that went beyond the North's nuclear and missile programs but China, Pyongyang's neighbour, was reluctant to impose measures that could threaten the stability of North Korea and cause its economy to collapse. Nonetheless, Beijing did agree to several economic measures.

The resolution bans the export of coal, iron and iron ore being used to fund North Korea's nuclear or ballistic missile programs -- and it prohibits all exports of gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore and rare earth minerals. It also bans aviation fuel exports to the country, including "kerosene-type rocket fuel."

"The international community, speaking with one voice, has sent Pyongyang a simple message: North Korea must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council after the vote that "part of the perverse reality that has no equal in this world" is that North Korea prioritizes its nuclear and ballistic missile programs over the basic needs of its own people.

The resolution stresses that the new measures are not intended to have "adverse humanitarian consequences" for civilians, the majority who face economic hardships and food shortages.

In the financial and banking sector, countries are required to freeze the assets of companies and other entities linked to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. Under a previous resolution, they were encouraged to do so.

The resolution also prohibits all countries from opening new branches, subsidiaries and representative offices of North Korean banks, and bans financial institutions from establishing new joint ventures or establishing or maintaining correspondent relationships with these banks. It also orders countries to close all North Korean banks and terminate all banking relationships within 90 days.

Under the four rounds of UN sanctions imposed since the country's first nuclear test in 2006, North Korea is banned from importing or exporting nuclear or missile items and technology as well as luxury goods. The new resolution expands the list of banned items, adding luxury items such as expensive watches, snowmobiles, recreational water vehicles and lead crystal.

It also adds 16 individuals, 12 "entities" including the National Aerospace Development Agency which was responsible for February's rocket launch, and 31 ships owned by the North Korean shipping firm Ocean Maritime Management Company to the sanctions blacklist. That requires the freezing of assets and, in the case of individuals, a travel ban as well.

The resolution bans Pyongyang from chartering vessels or aircraft, and call on countries to "de-register" any vessel owned, operated or crewed by the North.

As with previous resolutions, the test will be whether UN member states enforce the sanctions. A UN panel of experts monitoring the sanctions has repeatedly pointed out that enforcement in a significant number of cases has been weak.

North Korea has ignored many demands, and tried to circumvent others.

It started off the new year with what it claims was its first hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6 and followed up with the launch of a satellite on a rocket on Feb. 7. It was condemned by much of the world as a test of banned missile technology.

The resolution calls for a resumption of six-party talks leading to the goal of "the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner." North Korea withdrew from the talks in 2008.


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