US originally pushed for a strict oil embargo and a ban on the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but diplomats say the asset freeze has been dropped from the resolution before the vote.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reacts during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test in this undated photo released by North Koreas Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reacts during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test in this undated photo released by North Koreas Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017. (Reuters)

The United States submitted a new North Korean sanctions resolution to the UN Security Council, toning down its demands less than 24 hours before a vote due Monday, diplomats said, as it sought to bring China and Russia on board.

Washington has led the international drive to punish the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) after it conducted the sixth nuclear test on September 3, which Pyongyang said was an advanced hydrogen bomb, sparking international reactions.

The US had originally pushed for a strict oil embargo, as well as a freeze on the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

But late Sunday, diplomats said the asset freeze had been dropped from the new draft. The document now foresaw a progressive tightening of the oil taps, instead of something sudden and complete.

Among other concessions, the new text also softens proposed restrictions on North Koreans working overseas, and on the inspection by force of ships suspected of carrying cargo prohibited by the UN.

Of five key original measures, a ban on textile exports from North Korea remained.

TRT World speaks to journalist Joseph Kim in Seoul.

Backing US sanctions

Britain and France – permanent Security Council members along with the US, China and Russia – have given Washington their unequivocal backing. 

A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by permanent members the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass

The sticking point will be opposition from Russia and China. The North’s two main backers are wary of anything that might force the collapse of the regime and the resulting exodus of refugees.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) says estimates suggest Pyongyang imports about 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day, almost all of it from China.

In addition, according to figures from the International Trade Centre, a joint World Trade Organisation-United Nations agency, the North imported $115 million-worth of refined oil products –which could include petrol and aircraft fuel – from China last year. 

Another $1.7 million-worth came from Russia.

“We have been clear in close consultation with the Americans that oil has to be included as an element of sanctions,” South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-Wha told reporters.

Whatever final text was adopted, she hoped it would “have significant consequences in terms of greater economic pressure on North Korea.”

"US pays due price"

DPRK warned the US that it would pay a "due price" for spearheading efforts for fresh sanctions for this month's nuclear test.

North Korea's "reckless behaviour," pursuing nuclear and missile programmes, was a global threat and required a global response, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said over the weekend.

Still, North Korea denounced efforts by Washington to impose new UN-backed sanctions against the country.

The North's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the United States was "going frantic" to manipulate the Security Council over Pyongyang's nuclear test, which it said was part of "legitimate self-defensive measures."

"In case the US eventually does rig up the illegal and unlawful 'resolution' on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the US pays due price," the spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

"The world will witness how the DPRK tames the US gangsters by taking a series of actions tougher than they have ever envisaged," the unnamed spokesman said.

"The DPRK has developed and perfected the super-powerful thermo-nuclear weapon as a means to deter the ever-increasing hostile moves and nuclear threat of the US and defuse the danger of nuclear war looming over the Korean peninsula and the region."

Fallout

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last week during a visit to Russia that shutting off North Korea's supply of oil was inevitable this time to bring Pyongyang to talks and he called for Russian President Vladimir Putin's support.

Putin has remained firm however that such sanctions on oil would have negative humanitarian effects on North Koreans.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stressed the need for consensus and maintaining peace.

"I have said before that China agrees that the UN Security Council should make a further response and necessary actions with respect to North Korea's sixth nuclear test," he told reporters.

Business relationship

The stand-off is also spilling over into the business relationship between South Korea and China.

South Korea's Lotte Shopping is considering selling its supermarkets in China and other options should political tensions between Seoul and Beijing continue next year, an official at the retailer told Reuters.

China has pressured South Korean businesses via boycotts and bans since Seoul decided last year to deploy a US-made missile defence system as a deterrent to North Korea. 

Beijing says the system's radar can penetrate far into its territory.

South Korea deployed four additional units of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on Thursday after the North's latest nuclear test.

The heightened tension could have a substantial impact on South Korea's economy and could also disrupt trade between the United States and China, ratings agency Fitch said on Monday.

Outright military conflict on the Korean peninsula is unlikely but prolonged tension could undermine business and consumer sentiment, Fitch said.

Source: Reuters