US wants UN nod to intercept and check North Korean ships

A Thomson Reuters Eikon ship-tracking screen shows cargo ships returning to Nampo port in North Korea, on April 11, 2017.
A Thomson Reuters Eikon ship-tracking screen shows cargo ships returning to Nampo port in North Korea, on April 11, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Washington circulates draft resolution that also seeks oil embargo and total asset freeze

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration on Wednesday circulated a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would effectively empower the US Navy and US Air Force to intercept North Korean ships at sea, inspect them to check if they are carrying weapons material or fuel into the country, and use "all necessary measures" to enforce compliance.

This is part of a draft that would ban the shipment of all crude oil, refined petroleum and natural gas to North Korea, essentially seeking to plunge a country of 25 million into a deep freeze this winter if its leaders fail to start giving up their nuclear weapon and missile programmes.

The resolution - circulated three days after the North conducted its largest nuclear test to date - also seeks to block all the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and virtually all the assets of the country's military and its sole political party.

The resolution, which the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she wanted to bring to a vote by Monday, seems certain to be opposed by China and Russia. Both hold veto power in the Security Council.

But if the parts authorising interceptions at sea survive, it could lead to some of the tensest encounters on the high seas since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when then US President John F. Kennedy ordered a complete blockade around the island to prevent Soviet missiles from being installed.

The resolution calls for something far less than a total blockade, widely considered an act of war. But it would authorise a committee of the Security Council to "designate vessels for non-consensual inspections" and authorise all UN members "to inspect on the high seas any vessel designated by the committee".

If the crew of a North Korean ship failed to stop or resisted a boarding party, one military official conceded, this could spark an exchange of fire at a time when Pyongyang is threatening to use its nascent nuclear arsenal, and the US is warning of a "devastating response".

President Donald Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, hours before the US sent its draft to all 15 members of the Security Council.

FOR THE SANCTIONS

We will not be putting up with what is happening in North Korea.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP on Wednesday, after a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The international community must unite in applying the greatest possible pressure on North Korea.

JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE

I hope that Russia will continue its support on this question.

SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT MOON JAE IN, on wanting Russia to continue supporting sanctions against North Korea.

SCEPTICAL

It is impossible to intimidate them...They think that means the next step for them is an invitation to the cemetery.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, who believes Pyongyang will not agree to ending its nuclear programme in return for easing sanctions .

Given the new developments on the Korean peninsula, China agrees that the UN Security Council should make a further response and take necessary measures...We believe that sanctions and pressure are only half of the key to resolving the issue. The other half is dialogue and negotiation.

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER WANG YI

Both Mr Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have opposed further sanctions, even after North Korea tested what it called a hydrogen bomb.This sets up a confrontation at the Security Council pitting the US, Britain and France against the other two permanent members.

The Trump administration on Wednesday repeated a drastic - if unlikely - warning if UN action is blocked. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said an executive order had been prepared to authorise a halt in trade with "anybody that does trade with North Korea".

The fate of the Trump administration's resolution may hinge in part on North Korean actions in the next few days. South Korea's intelligence and defence agencies have said they see preparations for another missile test from the North.

That has created a behind- the-scenes debate inside the Trump administration over how to respond. Even if the US wins approval of a complete ban on energy exports to the North, there is scepticism that it would be successful.

Mr Peter Hayes and Mr David Von Hippel of the Nautilus Institute, experts on North Korea's energy policies, argued in a paper that the country would adjust to an energy embargo. "There will be little or no immediate impact on the Korean People's Army's nuclear or missile programmes," they said, and "little or no immediate impact on the KPA's routine or wartime ability to fight due to energy scarcity, given its short war strategy and likely stockpiling".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2017, with the headline 'US wants UN nod to intercept and check North Korean ships'. Print Edition | Subscribe