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For North Korea, sanctions hold little sway

UN condemnation brings vows from North to restart nuclear program, pull out of six-party talks.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Donald KirkCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 14, 2009

The UN Security Council met Monday and condemned North Korea's missile launch, saying it violated a resolution adopted in 2006.

Osamu Honda/AP

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Beijing; and Seoul, South Korea

China's success in averting tough new United Nations sanctions against its ally, North Korea, has not stopped Pyongyang from angrily rejecting Monday's watered down UN Security Council condemnation of its recent missile test. The pariah state's violent rhetoric cast a new shadow over the Korean peninsula's future.

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North Korea announced Tuesday it would restart nuclear-weapons development and pull out of "useless" international negotiations to shut down its nuclear program, slamming the UN statement as "rampantly" infringing on the country's sovereignty.

Judging by past experience, Pyongyang will get away with its intransigence. The UN Security Council statement – drafted only because China and Russia would not agree to a legally binding resolution – says merely that it will "adjust" sanctions that have barely been enforced since they were imposed in 2006.

So far, "they have had no significant impact … not enough to change North Korean policy calculations," says Denny Roy, a North Korea analyst at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

That failure appears to have prompted South Korea to raise the stakes with the North by becoming a fully fledged member of the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative. Government sources in Seoul said the cabinet decided Tuesday to join the 15-member group, initiated by then-President George Bush in 2003 and dedicated to blocking shipments of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Until now, Seoul has been only an observer, for fear of antagonizing Pyongyang.

The 2006 sanctions, agreed to in the wake of North Korea's test of a nuclear device, have had little impact, partly because they were very narrowly framed. They banned UN member states from buying or selling only items related to ballistic-missile, nuclear, or weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, as well as luxury goods.

They have had negligible effect also because the United Nations has done little to enforce even those limited sanctions, leaving it up to member states to decide what to do. Last year, the UN committee set up to monitor compliance with the sanctions regime did not even meet.

UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed the 2006 sanctions, asked a UN committee to draw up a list of North Korean companies and individuals associated with Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs. Their overseas assets were to be frozen, and individuals were to be forbidden from foreign travel. No such list has yet been prepared.

By the end of last year, only 73 countries – little more than a third of UN member states – had informed the world body of the steps they had taken to enforce the sanctions. During the course of 2008, "no information relevant to the implementation of its mandate has been brought to the attention of the Committee" overseeing the sanctions, according to a report by committee chairman Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata last December.

Though China was one of the reporting countries, it pointedly said nothing about any plans to end its exports of luxury goods, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly employs to encourage top officials to remain loyal.