UN, US close to imposing sanctions on North Korea

The UN Security Council is close to approving action in response to the North's latest nuclear test. The US also plans separate sanctions for illegal weapons sales and counterfeiting.

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The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are close to completing work on new sanctions against North Korea, while the US is set to impose its own financial sanctions against the reclusive nation for its role in weapons sales and counterfeiting.

Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reports that ambassadors from the five permanent Security Council members – Russia, the US, China, Britain, and France – as well as envoys from Japan and South Korea met late Thursday to complete a draft for sanctions against North Korea in response to its May 25 nuclear test.

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"We are very close to finishing the work [on the sanctions]," Vitaly Churkin told reporters after a three-hour meeting at the U.S. mission to the UN in New York.
The UN Security Council has already denounced Pyongyang's May 25 nuclear test as a violation of Resolution 1718 and the international non-proliferation regime. North Korea is under a number of UN sanctions over its first nuclear test, carried out in 2006.
Possible new sanctions may include a ban on importing and exporting all arms and not just heavy weapons, additional asset freezes and travel bans for North Korean officials, and placing more firms on a UN blacklist, according to UN sources.

Each of the five permanent Security Council members must agree upon the sanctions to be enacted, because each possesses a potential veto of any Security Council legislation. Sanctions agreed upon by all five permanent members would almost certainly be enacted.

Reuters reports that the US is also preparing its own financial sanctions against North Korea to punish it for illegal weapons sales and counterfeiting of US currency, according to a story Friday in the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo. The story notes that the move parallels sanctions enacted for similar reasons by the Bush administration in 2005.

In 2005, the Bush administration imposed financial sanctions on the North over counterfeiting and drug-running. The move focused on a Macau bank and effectively shut off the North's access to the international financial system.
"If BDA (Banco Delta Asia in Macau) was against a single bank, this time it is about cutting off transactions with banks that are suspected of being involved in the North's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) trade," the newspaper report said.
The 2005 crackdown on BDA froze about $25 million in funds of Pyongyang's leadership. Most banks around the world steered clear of North Korean funds as a result, fearful of being snared themselves by U.S. financial authorities.

Reuters writes that the US is currently working with South Korea to investigate the appearance in the Korean city of Busan of high-quality counterfeit bills, called "supernotes," which the US suspects are made in North Korea. But Reuters notes in another article that new sanctions imposed by the US may be limited "because the impoverished North's meager international finances have already been curtailed by sanctions."

Agence France-Presse reports that in an unusual departure from its recent belligerence, North Korea has scheduled new talks with South Korea regarding the future of the Kaesong industrial zone. The Kaesong factory region in North Korea, where South Korean companies employ North Korean workers, has been one of the few areas of cooperation between the two nations. But Kaesong has been the topic of debate between the two in recent months, as North Korea has detained a South Korean manager since late March, and recently announced it was canceling current wage and rent agreements with the companies involved in Kaesong.

The BBC writes that with the current tensions between the two nations, the Kaesong talks, which are scheduled for next week, present South Koreans with a "rare opportunity to sit down with their opposite numbers from the North."

[The South Koreans] see the talks as a chance to protest against the North Korean's recent nuclear bomb test.
The North Koreans are not talking, in public at least, with anyone at the moment so the offer to meet is significant.
But past experience suggests their officials will see the talks simply as an opportunity to set out the new terms and conditions they want to impose on South Korean companies working on their side of the border.

But Bloomberg notes that the opportunity is apt to be limited, given North Korea's past behavior in similar negotiations over Kaesong.

While North Korea instigated the talks on the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, a similar request in April resulted in a meeting that didn't address the North's ballistic-missile launch earlier in the month. Their negotiators focused on demanding higher wages for the 38,000 North Korean workers employed by South Korean companies at the plants.
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