By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United States said on Friday it will push United Nations sanctions on North Korea to be strengthened over “increasingly dangerous provocations,” but China and Russia signaled opposition and instead argued for such measures to be eased.
North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006, which the U.N. Security Council has steadily stepped up over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
But the hermit Asian state has successfully worked to evade some U.N. sanctions, according to independent U.N. sanctions monitors, who reported last month that North Korean cyberattacks on cryptocurrency exchanges were an important revenue source, earning Pyongyang hundreds of millions of dollars.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the 15-member council on Friday that she would propose a draft resolution “to update and strengthen the sanctions regime” on North Korea. She did not give any details.
The council last adopted a resolution imposing sanctions in December 2017, which included a ban on nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea. It committed to further restrict petroleum exports if there was another nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.
North Korea launched what it called a new ICBM on Thursday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the test was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any U.S. military moves.
The Security Council met on Friday, at the request of the United States and five other members, to discuss the ICBM launch, which was the latest in a string of missile tests. Nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea have long been banned by the Security Council.
China and Russia signaled opposition to the U.S. move on Friday. They have instead long been pushing for an easing of U.N. sanctions to improve North Korea’s humanitarian situation and to encourage Pyongyang to return to denuclearization negotiations with the United States and others.
“No party should take any action that would lead to greater tensions,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told the council on Friday. “The U.S. must not continue to brush aside the DPRK’s justified demands. It should offer an attractive proposal to pave the way for early resumed dialogue.”
North Korea’s formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Pyongyang wants U.S. and U.N. sanctions to be removed.
Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva told the council that Russia believed a further strengthening of U.N. sanctions “would threaten North Korean citizens with unacceptable socioeconomic and humanitarian problems.”
Thomas-Greenfield rejected Russia’s argument, saying that U.N. experts had said the main barrier to sending humanitarian aid to North Korea was the country’s own border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, not international sanctions.
The United States and allies have also accused Kim of diverting money to the nuclear weapons and missile programs instead of spending it on the North Korean people.
“Offering sanctions relief, without substantive diplomatic progress, would only funnel more revenue to the regime and accelerate the realization of its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic weapons goals,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo stressed to the council on Friday that its unity “in this matter is essential to ease tensions, overcome the diplomatic impasse and avoid a negative action-reaction cycle.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bernard Orr)