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Key UN Members Agree To New Sanctions On North Korea

Military officers celebrate North Korea's successful nuclear test in May.
UNITED NATIONS – Five powers involved in talks with North Korea on its nuclear ambitions have agreed to push the UN Security Council to impose tough new sanctions on Pyongyang.

On May 25, North Korea conducted its second test of a nuclear weapon, provoking demands from its allies and opponents alike that it return to six-party talks on its nuclear ambitions with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pyongyang immediately refused, prompting the five states to raise the prospect of sanctions.

The proposed sanctions would permit foreign countries to stop any seagoing vessels traveling to or from North Korea and search them for banned weapons, including any material that could be used to build missiles or nuclear weapons.

Such searches, however, must be approved by the countries whose flags are flown by the ships in question, and no force may be used in conducting the searches.

Previous sanctions imposed by the Security Council haven't persuaded North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Further, both Russia and China normally are reluctant to impose sanctions as part of any effort to resolve an international dispute.

But on June 10, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said this was a special case, and that the Security Council would move toward sanctions “with a heavy heart.” “But a certain political message must be sent and some measures must be taken, because we are facing a very real situation of proliferation risks in this context," he said.

Russia wasn't the only power to express reluctance to impose new sanctions on North Korea. Japan, too, was initially wary of taking action that might be ignored, as Pyongyang has ignored previous sanctions.

Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu said that Japan has insisted that "the measure should not be just [a] wish list, but an effective one. Not only strong, but it must be workable.”

The best way to make sure the North Koreans get the "political message" that Churkin mentioned was to make the sanctions hurt -- or "bite in a meaningful way," as U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said when presenting the draft resolution to the Security Council.

Later, Rice told reporters that if North Korea knows it will pay a price, it may return to the six-party talks.

"We think that the message that the [Security] Council will send, should it adopt this resolution, is that North Korea's behavior is unacceptable,” Rice said. “They must pay a price. They ought to return without conditions to a process of negotiations, and [know] that the consequences they will face are significant."

According to AP, which quoted a copy of the draft resolution, the measure also would expand the arms embargo against Pyongyang, try to limit the country's international financial dealings, and freeze the assets of its companies.

Baki Ilkin, the Turkish ambassador whose country holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month, said the council members that weren't part of the negotiations about the proposed sanctions will await their government's decisions on the matter.

A diplomat who requested anonymity told Reuters that the Security Council could vote on the resolution as early as June 12.