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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
UN Adds to North Korea Sanctions List

Peter Crail

In a key step aimed at implementing a June sanctions resolution against North Korea, the UN Security Council blacklisted 10 North Korean organizations and individuals connected to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs July 16. Security Council Resolution 1874, passed June 12, directed council members to take steps toward identifying North Korean entities and persons that would be subject to the financial restrictions, asset freezes, and travel restrictions outlined in the resolution. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) The council adopted that measure in response to North Korea’s May 25 nuclear test, building on a 2006 sanctions resolution adopted in response to Pyongyang’s first nuclear test.

The July 16 decision marked the first time that the council targeted North Korean officials for restrictions. The council blacklisted five individuals, including three officials involved in Pyongyang’s nuclear program and two directors of state-run trading companies.

The move also sanctioned Pyongyang’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy and three North Korean-based firms. A fourth blacklisted firm, Hong Kong Electronics, is headquartered in Iran. Those entities join two North Korean companies and a North Korean bank that the council sanctioned in April for their involvement in proliferation-related activities. (See ACT, May 2009.)

Of the five entities sanctioned by the United Nations July 16, the Namchongang Trading Corporation and Hong Kong Electronics were already under U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctions. The department imposed sanctions on the Korea Hyoksin Trading Corporation July 30.

U.S. officials have said that Washington is not alone in placing financial pressure on North Korean entities suspected of aiding proliferation. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, U.S. coordinator for the implementation of Resolution 1874, told reporters Aug. 13 that other countries have sent advisories to their banks to warn against dealings with North Korean entities. “The way it’s working is for banks to look at transactions when there is a sign that this may have to do with one of the designated entities,” he said.

In addition to implementing the financial sanctions, other countries appear to be carrying out the inspections provisions outlined in the resolution. In early August, India detained and inspected the North Korean vessel MV Mu San, which anchored in Indian territorial waters without notification or permission. The Indian coast guard intercepted the vessel as it fled after being spotted. “We have been checking the ship for any radioactive material, but I must say, we have found nothing like that so far,” Indian police official Ashok Chand told reporters Aug. 10.

Resolution 1874 requires all states to inspect North Korean vessels if the countries have “reasonable grounds” to believe they contain prohibited items, including nuclear- or missile-related goods and conventional arms.

The location of the ship was of particular interest given concerns about North Korean cooperation with Burma, called Myanmar by its ruling regime. Reuters quoted Naresh Chandra, a former Indian ambassador to Washington, Aug. 10 as saying, “With increasing reports of North Korea helping [Burma] build a nuclear reactor, any vessel floating in Indian waters without a possible reason will be checked and India is rightly concerned.”

Among other news reports, The Australian reported Aug. 3 that defectors from Burma said the country maintains a secret nuclear weapons program with assistance from North Korea. U.S. officials have previously issued general statements of concern regarding military ties between the two countries. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Thailand July 21, “We know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take seriously.”

Following a meeting with Burma’s military leader, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) told Voice of America Aug. 17 that he was told “from a very high level in their government” that there was no truth to stories about a Burmese nuclear program.

While the United States continues to press for implementing UN sanctions on Pyongyang, North Korea appears to be taking tentative steps to improve relations with the United States.

Former President Bill Clinton made a high-profile visit to Pyongyang Aug. 4 to secure the release of two U.S. journalists detained in North Korea since March and charged with espionage. During his visit, Clinton met with ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency stated Aug. 5 that the visit “will contribute to deepening the understanding between [North Korea] and the U.S. and building the bilateral confidence.”

In another gesture, diplomats from the North Korean mission to the UN met with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) Aug. 19 to discuss U.S.-North Korean issues. Richardson, a former U.S. permanent representative to the UN, traveled three times previously to North Korea to obtain the release of detained Americans and the remains of U.S. soldiers missing in action during the Korean War.

Richardson told MSNBC Aug. 19 that Pyongyang is seeking bilateral meetings with Washington. “They think the six-party talks are not working, and they don’t want to return to that,” he said.

The six-party talks, involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, were an effort begun in 2003 to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. North Korea dealt a critical blow to those negotiations, which were held intermittently in succeeding years, in April when Pyongyang declared that it would never return to the talks.

The United States, along with the four other participants in the talks, have maintained that Pyongyang must return to those negotiations in order to work toward nuclear disarmament. Goldberg said Aug. 13, however, that the six-party process “does not exclude…bilateral exchanges as well.”

Victor Cha, National Security Council director for East Asian affairs during the George W. Bush administration, said during an Aug. 19 speech that North Korea’s recent gestures are related to the stiffened sanctions. “One thing I’ve learned in studying the country and working on negotiations is when they feel the pinch of international sanctions, that’s often when they want to come to talks,” he said.