WASHINGTON • The US has asked the UN Security Council to blacklist 10 ships for circumventing sanctions on North Korea, documents show, while South Korea's President suggested delaying military drills with the Americans to ease tensions ahead of next year's Winter Olympics.
Documents seen by Reuters on Tuesday say the 10 vessels had been conducting ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or transporting North Korean coal in violation of United Nations sanctions imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.
The ships would be blacklisted - meaning countries would be required to ban them from entering their ports - if none of the 15 members of the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee object by afternoon today.
North Korea is under a UN arms embargo and the Security Council has banned trade in exports such as coal, textiles, seafood, iron and other minerals to choke funding for Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programmes. In September, the council put a cap of two million barrels a year on refined petroleum products exports to North Korea.
The ships targeted are Xin Sheng Hai (flag unknown); Hong-Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore; Togo-flagged Yu Yuan; Panama-flagged Glory Hope 1, Kai Xiang, and Billions No. 18; and North Korean-flagged Ul Ji Bong 6, Rung Ra 2, Rye Song Gang 1, and Sam Jong 2.
Four ships were designated for carrying coal from North Korea by the council's North Korea sanctions committee in October.
Washington has led a drive to step up sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang's efforts to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.
In Ottawa on Tuesday, Canada and the US said they would co-host a foreign ministers meeting in Vancouver on Jan 16 to show global solidarity against Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests. Representatives of the countries that sent military support to the UN-backed effort to repel North Korean forces after the 1950 invasion of South Korea will attend the meeting.
Japan, India and Sweden will also attend, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. "We can't talk unless North Korea is ready to talk," Mr Tillerson told reporters after meeting Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
"What's important for North Korea to know is that this pressure campaign will not abate, we will not be rolling any of it back, it will only be intensified as time goes by, and it will remain in place until they agree to give up their nuclear weapons and allow us to verify the fact that is what they have done," he said.
Ms Freeland said the world had to show North Korea it was united in condemning the regime's actions, and that a "successful outcome of the international pressure campaign is a diplomatic engagement".
Washington has warned that all options are on the table, including military ones, to prevent North Korea's missile development.
On Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae In said he was willing to ease tensions ahead of next year's Winter Olympics in South Korea by delaying joint military exercises.
"It is possible for South Korea and the US to review the possibility of postponing the exercises," he told NBC News. "I've made such a suggestion to the US, and the US is reviewing it. However, all this depends on how North Korea behaves."
A spokesman for the US Pacific Command declined to discuss any plans for exercises.
Meanwhile, Japan's Asahi newspaper yesterday cited an unidentified person connected to South Korean intelligence as saying North Korea was conducting biological weapons experiments to test the possibility of loading anthrax-laden warheads on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Asahi report said the US government was aware of the tests, which were meant to ascertain whether the anthrax bacteria could survive the high temperatures that occur during warheads' re-entry from space. Reuters could not verify the report.