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DPRK: Vote on a Resolution Strengthening Sanctions

The Security Council is expected to vote this afternoon (22 December) on a draft resolution tightening sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in response to the 28 November launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The US circulated a draft text yesterday (21 December) morning, and following a meeting at expert level the draft was put in blue yesterday late afternoon.

In addition to the three nuclear tests in the past two years, there has been an increase in 2017 in the pace of missile tests conducted by the DPRK, with signs of significant technological advances in the development of intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles. Starting in May, the Council began to respond by adopting resolutions, which strengthened the existing sanctions measures or added new measures. The day after the last launch on 28 November, at the request of Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the US, the Security Council held a public meeting with a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. At that point, it seemed that Council members did not think that another resolution further strengthening sanctions should be the Council’s immediate response.

However, it appears that in the last week the US has been discussing a draft text with China. The draft resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum products to the DPRK and sets a ceiling of 500,000 barrels for twelve months starting on 1 January 2018. This is a lowering of the figure from the 2,000,000 barrels for the same period specified in resolution 2375 adopted on 11 September 2017. Regarding crude oil, the draft resolution essentially allows the supply to continue to the DPRK at current levels. It caps the supply of crude oil at 4 million barrels for a period of twelve months following the adoption of the resolution, and then for another twelve months if the 4 million barrels is not exceeded in the first year. It seems that the US had wanted a further lowering of the number of barrels of refined petroleum products and crude oil, but in negotiations with China over the last week, this was one area where it had to compromise in order to get China’s agreement.

Apparently another area that needed some compromise in negotiations between China and the US was how quickly DPRK nationals earning income abroad would be repatriated. According to the draft in blue, repatriation needs to take place within 12 months of the adoption of the resolution, a longer period than what the US had initially proposed.

The draft resolution designates 19 new individuals and one entity, the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, which manages the administrative and logistical needs of the Korean People’s Army, for an asset freeze and travel ban. The individuals designated are largely representatives of overseas DPRK banks. It seems that the US had initially wanted to include a number of higher-level officials but China had objected.

The provisions on maritime interdiction of cargo vessels are strengthened in the draft resolution, including in relation to the interception of DPRK vessels. The draft resolution allows for members to “seize, inspect, freeze and impound any vessel in its territorial waters” if it suspects the ship is illegally providing oil to DPRK through ship-to-ship transfers or smuggling DPRK coal and other prohibited commodities. Members appear to have accepted the tightening of this area of sanctions as it does not include language on interdiction and inspection of cargo vessels in the high seas, which would have been more controversial.

The draft resolution would also ban the export of food products, machinery, electrical equipment, earth and stones, wood and vessels from North Korea. And it would ban all countries from exporting industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals to the DPRK.

The section in the draft resolution dealing with the political aspect of the situation contains similar language to previous resolutions. It reaffirms support for the Six Party Talks and calls for their resumption and stresses that the measures imposed by Council resolutions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population. However, it does not, unlike the last resolution, urge further work to reduce tensions and advance the prospects for a comprehensive settlement. The importance of finding a diplomatic solution has been increasingly emphasised by China and Russia, as well as most elected members. At a meeting on non-proliferation and DPRK on 15 December, the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern about “the risk of military confrontation, including as a result of unintended escalation or miscalculation” and emphasised that it was time to re-establish and strengthen communications channels, including inter-Korean and military-to-military ones, in order to lower the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding. He also stressed that diplomatic engagement was the only path to sustainable peace and denuclearisation.

Although Council members had very little time to consider the draft text, it seems that members are agreeable to it. China, having provided its inputs earlier, appears to have accepted the need to tighten sanctions at this point. Russia apparently raised concern about the manner in which an international maritime treaty was referenced in the text, but it appears that this concern has been addressed in the final version.

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