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Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): Ministerial-level Meeting

Tomorrow morning (27 September), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level meeting on efforts to denuclearise the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to chair the meeting. Under Rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan are also expected to speak.

The US administration has placed a strong emphasis on non-proliferation-related issues during its Security Council presidency this month. Earlier today, US President Donald Trump chaired a summit-level briefing on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, during which he expressed concerns about the use or potential use of WMDs by Iran and Syria, and described diplomatic efforts toward non-proliferation in the DPRK.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the second to be held on the DPRK/non-proliferation this month, as the US initiated a meeting on 17 September (S/PV.8353) to address concerns over the content and handling of the midterm report of the DPRK Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts. At that meeting, the US accused Russia of pressuring the Panel of Experts to modify its report, which described sanctions violations by some Russian actors. Russia dismissed these allegations and asserted that the US had interfered in the Panel’s work by preventing the circulation of the latest version of the report to the wider UN membership.

In a concept note circulated to Council members last week, the US emphasised that tomorrow’s meeting will provide an opportunity to demonstrate resolve in response to the DPRK and others seeking to subvert sanctions, and to foster discussion of better ways to implement existing Council measures to denuclearise the DPRK.

The negotiations on DPRK denuclearisation have been conducted through inter-Korean dialogue and direct talks between the US and the DPRK. This year, the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have held three summit-level meetings during which both countries committed to improving their relations.

Council members are likely to welcome these efforts, including the most recent summit held from 18-20 September in Pyongyang. At the summit, DPRK supreme leader Kim Jong-Un committed to dismantling the Dongchang-ri missile test site and launch platform with international inspectors permitted to observe. Kim further expressed willingness to take additional measures, as the US takes unspecified corresponding steps.

Pompeo is likely to update the Council on the current state of talks between the US and the DPRK. There had been a high level of diplomatic activity leading up to the 12 June Singapore summit between Kim and Trump. In the aftermath of the summit, however, both countries reverted to more contentious rhetoric, with the US accusing the DPRK of continuing to evade sanctions. In July, Pompeo held an informal meeting with Council members, warning that the DPRK had continued to engage in the illegal procurement of petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers, and that it had exceeded import limits set out in the sanctions regime.

In recent weeks, it seems that there has been some easing of tensions between the US and the DPRK. Addressing the media earlier this week, Trump and Pompeo indicated that both sides have been engaged in negotiations and that there is a possibility of a second Trump-Kim summit in the near future. Pompeo has, however, reiterated that sanctions will remain in place until the DPRK reaches full, complete, and verified denuclearisation.

While the Council managed to unanimously adopt a series of resolutions tightening sanctions on the DPRK in 2017, the unity of the Council has frayed on this issue this year. The majority of Council members support the ongoing diplomatic engagement with the DPRK, but caution against any easing of sanctions until there is more concrete evidence of progress toward denuclearization. However, some members believe that the Council should consider adopting a new, less coercive approach towards the DPRK, given the diplomatic progress this year. Among these members are China and particularly Russia, which have openly questioned the continued usefulness of sanctions and the US approach of maximum pressure on the DPRK. It is likely that the different positions among Council members will be reiterated during tomorrow’s meeting.

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