North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrating after a missile launch. -AFP
The UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea, banning textile exports and restricting shipments of oil products to punish Pyongyang for its sixth and largest nuclear test.
The resolution, passed after Washington toned down its original proposals to secure backing from China and Russia, came just one month after the council banned exports of coal, lead and seafood in response to North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the tough new measures were a message to Pyongyang that "the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea," but she also held out the prospect of a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
"We are not looking for war. The North Korean regime has not yet passed the point of no-return," Haley told the council, adding: "If North Korea continues its dangerous path, we will continue with further pressure. The choice is theirs."
During tough negotiations, the United States dropped initial demands for a full oil embargo and a freeze on the foreign assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The resolution instead bans trade in textiles, cuts off natural gas shipments to North Korea, places a ceiling on deliveries of refined oil products and caps crude oil shipments at current levels.
It bars countries from issuing new work permits to North Korean laborers sent abroad -- there are some 93,000, providing Kim's regime with a source of revenue to develop its missile and nuclear programs, according to a US official familiar with the negotiations.
Under the measure, countries are authorized to inspect ships suspected of carrying banned North Korean cargo but must first seek the consent of the flag-state. Joint ventures will be banned and the names of senior North Korean official and three entities were added to a UN sanctions blacklist that provides for an assets freeze and a global travel ban.
It was the eighth series of sanctions imposed on North Korea since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006. Seoul welcomed the resolution, calling it a "grave warning that (North Korea's) continued provocations will only intensify its diplomatic isolation and economic pressure."
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the sanctions were much stronger than earlier measures and urged Pyongyang to take "concrete action" toward denuclearization. The United States and its allies argue that tougher sanctions will pile pressure on Kim's regime to come to the negotiating table to discuss an end to its nuclear and missile tests.
Russia and China are pushing for talks with North Korea, but their proposal for a freeze on Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests in exchange for suspending US-South Korean military drills has been rejected by the United States.
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi again called for talks "sooner rather than later."
China, North Korea's sole ally and main trading partner, had strongly objected to an oil embargo initially sought by the United States out of fear that it would bring the North's economy to its knees.
Instead, annual crude oil supplies are capped at current levels -- China is believed to supply around four million barrels a year through a pipeline, while deliveries of refined oil products such as gasoline and diesel are limited to two million barrels a year.
That would amount to a 10 percent cut in oil products, according to the US Energy Information Administration, which estimates annual exports to North Korea at nearly 2.2 million barrels. The US official said the ban on textile exports would deprive North Korea of some $726 million in annual revenue.
But analysts were skeptical about their impact.
North Korea has made rapid progress in its nuclear and missile programs despite multiple sets of UN sanctions, and Go Myong-Hyun at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies said the latest measures were "not enough to cause pain."
Kim Hyun-Wook of Seoul's Korea National Diplomatic Academy, predicted: "The sanctions will only provide North Korea with an excuse for further provocations, such as an ICBM launch."
Washington has said military action remains an option in dealing with Pyongyang and threatened to cut economic ties with countries that continue to trade with it. Earlier, North Korea said it would not accept any chastisement over its weapons development, which it says is vital to stave off the threat of an American invasion.In an official statement it threatened to cause the US "the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history."
Pyongyang has staged a series of missile tests in recent months that appeared to bring much of the US mainland into range. It followed up with a sixth nuclear test on September 3, its largest to date, which it said was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb.
-AFP, United Nations
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