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UN set for vote after US softens North Korea sanctions

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This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 23, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (2nd R) visiting the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science at an undisclosed location. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT

The UN Security Council will vote Monday on a draft resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea after the United States toned down its demands in a bid to win support from Russia and China.

Washington has led the international drive to punish the rogue state after it detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device.

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

A new draft text circulated late Sunday maintains an embargo on natural gas but would limit deliveries of refined oil to 500,000 barrels for three months from October 1 and 2 million barrels from January 1 for a period of 12 months, according to the text obtained by AFP.

Crude oil supplies would be capped at their current level.

The United States dropped demands that Kim be added to a UN sanctions blacklist, hitting the North Korean leader with an assets freeze and global travel ban.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft described the revised draft as “very robust” and suggested that the changes were aimed at averting a possible veto from Russia or China.

“There is a significant prize in keeping the whole of the Security Council united,” Rycroft told reporters.

The vote will be held at 6 pm (2200 GMT) and diplomats did not rule out further minor changes in the coming hours.

Ban on textiles
The proposed resolution would slap a ban on textile exports from North Korea, but drop demands for a full halt to payments of North Korea labourers working abroad.

Countries that have provided work permits for the North Koreans are asked to report to the United Nations the number of guest workers they have employed and the date for ending those contracts.

Among other concessions the new text also softens the inspection by force of North Korean ships suspected of carrying cargo prohibited by the UN and drops a proposed assets freeze on the state-owned Air Koryo airline.

It would add the name of North Korean senior official Pak Yong Sik, who helps direct the country’s missile industries, to the blacklist along with three other North Korean agencies.

In another move to address Russian and Chinese concerns, the latest draft resolution expresses support for efforts to resolve the crisis through dialogue and highlights the need to “ensure lasting stability in northeast Asia.”

Britain and France — permanent veto-wielding Security Council members along with the US, China and Russia — have given Washington their strong backing.

China, the North’s main ally and key energy supplier, and Russia have not clearly said whether they would support the new raft of sanctions.

Economic pressure
“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.”

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.

According to figures from the International Trade Centre, a joint World Trade Organization-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.

Washington said military action remains an option in dealing with North Korea and threatened to cut economic ties with countries that continue to trade with the it — around 90 percent of the North’s external commerce is with China.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that Beijing “approves further reactions and necessary measures by the UN Security Council” in response to the nuclear test.

He declined to be drawn on whether China was behind the weakening of the draft, saying it hoped the decision would be made “on the basis of full consultation and consensus.”

‘Pay the price’
Early Monday, North Korea said it would not accept any chastisement over its nuclear and missile program, which it says is vital to stave off the threat of an American invasion.

If Washington does “rig up the illegal and unlawful ‘resolution’ on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the US pays due price,” its foreign ministry said, in a statement published by the official KCNA news agency.

“The forthcoming measures to be taken by the DPRK will cause the US the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history,” the ministry said.

“The world will witness how the DPRK tames the US gangsters by taking (a) series of action tougher than they have ever envisaged.”

Pyongyang has staged a series of missile tests in recent months, culminating in an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared to bring much of the US mainland into range — ramping up tensions and earning itself a seventh set of UN Security Council sanctions.

It followed up with a sixth nuclear test on September 3, its largest to date, which North Korea said was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile.


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