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U.N. Security Council Steps Up Pressure On North Korea

Sep 11, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The U.N. Security Council is stepping up the pressure on North Korea. It has voted unanimously on a new sanctions resolution. This comes after North Korea's latest nuclear test. And the U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, says the resolution is meant to starve the regime of the money it needs to develop its nuclear and missile programs.

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NIKKI HALEY: Today we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. And today the Security Council is saying that if the North Korean regime does not halt its nuclear program, we will act to stop it ourselves.

MCEVERS: Though she calls the resolution the toughest to date, the sanctions are not as stringent as the Trump administration had initially proposed. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Hello there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So tell us. What does this resolution do, and does it have the teeth that the Trump administration wanted it to have?

KELEMEN: Well, it's not nearly as strong as the one that the Trump administration proposed last week. This was the product of negotiations with China, the key player here and North Korea's main trading partner, as well as with Russia and the other Security Council members. So for instance, while the U.S. wanted a total oil embargo, this resolution calls for a cap on oil exports to North Korea, cutting it, Haley says, by about 30 percent. A previous version would have allowed countries to stop and board vessels thought to be breaking U.N. sanctions. This resolution calls on countries to inspect ships if there are reasonable grounds for a search and only with consent.

There are a few things that made it through the negotiating process - for instance, a ban on textile exports from North Korea, for instance. That's one of the ways North Korea earns hard currency. It would also ban new contracts for North Korean workers that are sent abroad.

MCEVERS: Was it surprising that the U.S. backed off in this way?

KELEMEN: It did seem so to many of us who have been watching this. But an official who was involved at the negotiation said this was, you know, their strategy. They say usually negotiators take time quietly behind the scenes to come up with these new sanctions. This time officials said they wanted to circulate their own draft. It was meant to be maximalist. And then you can see that others have watered it down, not the U.S.

MCEVERS: The big question now is, how will this resolution be implemented? What are diplomats saying about that?

KELEMEN: Well, that's right. I mean U.S. officials say at least the resolution gives them some new tools to crack down on smuggling - again, not as stringent as originally proposed. The British ambassador pointed out that this is going to take time for sanctions to have a real impact. The U.N. only started hitting whole sectors of the North Korean economy last year, and textiles is the latest. So they're urging kind of patience to see where this goes.

MCEVERS: And a diplomatic solution of course does require some diplomacy, not just sanctions. Are there any indications that the Trump administration is ready for some diplomacy on North Korea?

KELEMEN: Well, China and Russia have been encouraging that and repeated that again on the floor of the Security Council today. President Trump so far has said this is not the time to talk, but his administration has been sending a lot of mixed signals, confusing signals about this. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is certainly keeping the door open to diplomacy, but he's focused on this sanctions track for now - the pressure side - so that if talks eventually get going, the U.S. will go into it with some more leverage.

But there's another problem, Kelly, and that's the North Koreans don't look eager to talk. They seem intent on developing their nuclear weapons capability to a point where maybe they'll have some leverage going into any negotiations.

MCEVERS: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.