Key Security Council members near agreement on sanctions against North Korea

Friday, October 13th 2006, 5:10 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) The United States dropped the possibility of using force against North Korea over the regime's purported nuclear test, a concession to Russia and China in the hope of seeing a U.N. Security Council resolution on the standoff passed by Friday.

The presidents of China and South Korea met in Beijing and a Russian envoy traveled to Pyongyang ahead of a full Security Council meeting Friday morning.

The United States reported significant progress Thursday night in bridging differences with Russia and China after more than two hours of negotiations among ambassadors from the five permanent council nations, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France, and Japan's ambassador, the current council president.

The Chinese and South Korean presidents discussed the U.S. proposed draft U.N. resolution on sanctions against North Korea but reach no agreement on it, Song Min-soon, Korean leader Roh Moo-hyun's security adviser, told reporters.

The U.S. said it hoped a vote could be held on Friday on its new resolution, though Japan said Saturday was more likely.

``We have made very substantial progress,'' U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters after the meeting.

Moscow and Beijing have wanted a more moderate response to Pyongyang's nuclear brinkmanship in the belief this might lure the reclusive communist nation back to disarmament talks.

China wanted to ensure that nothing in the draft could trigger military action, and the new U.S. draft circulated Thursday night eliminated a blanket arms embargo in the previous text. Under the new version, nations would be barred from selling to or supplying North Korea with specific weapons, including missiles, tanks, warships and combat aircraft.

Likewise, the North would be barred from exporting such weapons to U.N. member states.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya agreed that ``good progress has been made'' in improving the text. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said there had been ``a number of improvements'' and council unity ``is in good shape.''

Meanwhile, North Korean ships loaded their final cargoes of secondhand bicycles and household appliances in Sakaiminato, a Japanese port city a short journey from the North, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet approved closing the country's ports to North Korean ships and banning trade with the communist state. The sanctions also include a six-month ban on travel to Japan by all North Korean government officials.

The strong response came even though North Korea's claim to have detonated a nuclear explosion Monday has not yet been confirmed, and despite warnings from the North that it would take strong ``countermeasures'' if Japan went ahead with the new sanctions.

Because Japan's trade with North Korea is limited, Abe faced little domestic opposition to cutting it off. Tokyo already had limited sanctions in place against North Korea, imposed after the North test fired seven missiles into waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula in July.

The new U.S. draft expresses says North Korea's claim to have tested a nuclear device represents ``a clear threat to international peace and security.'' But it makes clear the Security Council would have to adopt a new resolution ``should additional measures be necessary'' against North Korea, such as military action.

The United States insisted the resolution fall under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes punishments ranging from breaking diplomatic ties and imposing economic sanctions to naval blockades and military actions, because of the gravity of North Korea's action.

China only wanted measures under Article 41 of Chapter 7, which authorizes nonmilitary sanctions such as economic penalties, breaking diplomatic relations and banning air travel.

The new draft states that the Security Council would act under Chapter 7 and only take measures under Article 41.

The U.S. proposal keeps the requirement that all countries prevent the sale or transfer of luxury goods and material and technology which could contribute to North Korea's nuclear, ballistic missile or other weapons of mass destruction related programs.

Also like the previous draft, the new draft demands that North Korea immediately return to nuclear talks without preconditions, and ``not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile.''

The latest draft keeps a financial freeze on individuals and entities with any connection to North Korea's weapons or missile programs, as well as a travel ban on those associated with the programs. But it changes the focus of the provision on inspections.

There is concern among some diplomats that boarding North Korean ships could lead to a military response from the North, and Beijing and Moscow objected to a provision authorizing the inspection of cargo going in and out of North Korea, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks are private.

In the new draft, the measure is softened by authorizing only ``cooperative action including through inspection of cargo ... in particular to prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, their means of delivery and related materials.''