Tomorrow afternoon (30 August), the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands), will brief Council members in consultations on the work of the committee during the past three months.
Earlier this month, the Panel of Experts circulated to the committee its midterm report on the implementation of resolution 2371, which was adopted on 5 August 2017. This resolution imposed a series of additional sanctions on the DPRK, including on maritime and financial activities and trade. The committee has held two meetings to discuss the report so far. Although the report was confidential and not meant to be made public, some of its findings were leaked to the media. The panel reportedly found that the DPRK had not stopped its nuclear and missile programmes and has continued to violate the Council-mandated sanctions by engaging in illicit ship-to-ship oil transfers and transfers of coal. It seems that the report also alleges that the DPRK has continued to cooperate with the Syrian military and has attempted to sell weapons to Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen.
On 23 August, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing its displeasure over the leaks. It noted that this incident seems to be aimed at pressuring certain countries “on the North Korean file to exert maximum pressure on Pyongyang”. Russia has also indicated that it would ask the UN Secretariat to investigate the incident and report back to the committee with an aim to prevent future leaks.
The meeting comes at the time of an increasing gap between permanent members regarding how to address the issue of sanctions on the DPRK. The US has continued to emphasise the importance of maintaining maximum pressure on the DPRK until it demonstrates concrete actions towards denuclearisation. The recent cancellation of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the DPRK by US President Donald Trump is an indication that this position is likely to harden. China and Russia, however, appear to be skeptical of the US approach and have increasingly become more open to considering some form of sanctions relief for the DPRK.
Tensions on DPRK have been especially strong between Russia and the US. The US has continued to accuse Russia of circumventing the sanctions on the DPRK. Earlier in the month, the US imposed a series of unilateral sanctions targeting, among others, Russian ships and shipping companies that the US alleges to have been engaged in ship-to-ship transfers to DPRK vessels of items prohibited by the Security Council sanctions. Russia has condemned the latest round of unilateral sanctions on its entities and has accused the US of undermining the recent diplomatic efforts on denuclearisation.
Furthermore, Russia blocked an attempt by the US this month to designate one individual and several entities, including one Russian bank, on the UN sanctions list. Russia claimed that the evidence presented has been unconvincing.
Although the Council was able to agree on a series of resolutions last year imposing stronger sanctions on the DPRK, it appears that the growing US-Russian tensions on this issue, and the deterioration in US-China relations over trade, may make it increasingly difficult to obtain consensus on the implementation of sanctions.