The United States on Wednesday asked the United Nations to slap an oil embargo on North Korea and freeze the assets of leader Kim Jong-Un, setting up a potential clash with Russia and China over how to respond to Pyongyang’s sixth and biggest nuclear test.
A draft Security Council resolution obtained by AFP demands not only a ban on oil and gas supplies to North Korea, but also an end to textile exports and to payments made to North Korean guest workers, cutting off revenue to Kim’s regime.
China has long been reluctant to take measures that could trigger instability or a refugee exodus on its border, and Russia has resisted tough economic sanctions that could worsen the humanitarian crisis.
In a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday insisted that military action against North Korea was not his “first choice” and pushed for a diplomatic option.
After Kim’s pariah regime claimed it carried out a hydrogen bomb test over the weekend, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States would be seeking a vote at the council on new sanctions on September 11.
The proposed package of measures would be the strongest yet against North Korea, which is barred under UN resolutions from developing nuclear or missile technology.
The draft resolution takes aim directly at North Korea’s leadership, proposing a freeze on Kim’s assets as well as those of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea and the government.
Kim would be added to a UN sanctions blacklist, subjecting him to a global travel ban, along with four other North Korean officials.
The state-owned airline, Air Koryo, would also be hit by an assets freeze along with the Korean People’s Army and eight other groups linked to the government, the military and the ruling party.
Countries would be authorized to “use all necessary means” to seize and inspect North Korean cargo vessels on the UN sanctions list, according to the 13-page draft resolution. Nine North Korean ships would be added the blacklist.
The measure would also scrap all joint ventures with North Korea.
Russia balks at oil embargo
In Vladivostok, South Korean President Moon Jae-In tried with little apparent success to convince Russian Vladimir Putin to cut off Pyongyang’s key supplies of fuel oil.
“In order to compel North Korea to come to the dialogue table, UN sanctions must be strengthened,” Moon told Putin, a South Korean spokesman told the Yonhap news agency.
“Now it is inevitable to cut off oil supplies to the North, we hope Russia will cooperate as well,” he continued.
The South Korean presidential spokesman quoted Putin as saying that Russia was concerned a block of fuel oil supplies would hurt civilians — including hospitals.
Putin reportedly argued that Russia exports a negligible amount of oil to North Korea — about 40,000 tonnes a year.
Experts say a ban on oil supplies would be devastating for ordinary North Koreans.
“People will be forced to walk or not move at all, and to push buses instead of riding in them,” said a report by the Nautilus Institute think tank. “There will be less light in households due to less kerosene.”
The ban will lead to more deforestation, the report said, as North Koreans will be forced to cut down trees to produce charcoal, leading to “more erosion, floods and more famine” in the already impoverished country.
Kim’s regime would immediately restrict supplies to private citizens, it added, and a ban would have “little or no immediate impact” on the North’s army or its missile and nuclear programs.
The diplomatic push could not disguise mounting tension, underscored by China conducting air force drills to defend its east coast “against nuclear and biological weapons.”
Trump spoke with Xi of China, the country seen as having the most influence on its unruly neighbour and key to getting any sanctions regime to stick.
“I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 percent. He doesn’t want to see what’s happening there, either. We had a very, very frank and very strong phone call,” Trump said.
According to the White House, Trump and Xi “committed to strengthen coordination and take further action with the goal of achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”