The United States has blocked an attempt by Russia to ease UN sanctions on North Korea in what it claimed was an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the impoverished nation.
But U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on November 8 accused Russia of cloaking an attempt to lift sanctions on North Korea's banking sector as a "humanitarian" gesture, and vowed to keep Moscow from succeeding.
"What they're looking for is to lift banking restrictions," Haley said after a closed-door UN Security Council meeting sought by Russia to discuss its proposal.
"So now we know what their agenda is. We know exactly why they're trying to do it, and we're not going to let it happen," Haley said.
"They talk a lot about how they are concerned about the humanitarian situation in North Korea, but the truth always comes out at the end," she said.
Haley accused Russia of "cheating" and not adhering to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations last year.
"We have given a lot of carrots up until now. We're not going to get rid of the stick because they [North Korea] haven’t done anything to warrant getting rid of the sanctions," she said.
China and Russia have both publicly called for a relaxation of restrictions to recognize concessions North Korea has made to the United States in negotiations aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.
But Britain and France have backed the United States in saying the sanctions should stay in place until North Korea actually starts to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.
Haley said that North Korea canceled talks that were scheduled to be held this week with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "because they weren't ready," and said she expected the negotiations to be rescheduled.
"I don't think there was some major issue" derailing the talks, she said.
Pompeo was expected to meet with North Korean negotiator Kim Yong Chol in New York on November 8 to discuss the North's commitment to eliminating its nuclear weapons and arrangements for a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Russia denied Haley's claim that it is violating the UN sanctions and said it was seeking exemptions from the sanctions on Pyongyang for the delivery of tractors, spare parts, and other goods needed for humanitarian relief.
It said the exemptions would allow deliveries of plumbing parts needed to repair North Korean health facilities as well as the farm equipment needed for harvesting food in a country that has experienced chronic food shortages.
Around 10.3 million people, or 41 percent of North Korea's population, are undernourished, according to UN estimates.
AFP, citing UN documents, reported that the humanitarian projects delayed by the United States are sponsored by European organizations such as Ireland's Concern Worldwide, Italy's Agrotec Spa company, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which AFP said was requesting sanctions waivers for water sanitation projects.
AFP quoted a Red Cross official as saying that 40 percent of North Koreans lack access to safe water and are in danger of being exposed to water-borne diseases.
U.S. officials maintain that any request for sanctions exemptions must be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that any equipment or goods shipped to North Korea are not diverted by the government, which has been accused of siphoning off food aid in the past.
"Our goal is to make sure that we don't do anything if it's going to be compromised and not go to the people," Haley said. "If it can be used in a different way, if we think they'll use if for another purpose, we are taking our time in vetting that very carefully."