North Korea: US calls on Russia and China to tackle breaches of oil sanctions

By Guardian Web

The US has urged Russia and China to clamp down on repeated breaches of the oil sanctions regime imposed on North Korea, saying America had evidence of at least 89 illegal ship-to-ship oil transfers this year.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, the day after Russia and China at the UN sanctions committee rejected a US call to step up sanctions saying it needed further evidence of North Korean sanctions evasion.

The Russian and Chinese decision at the UN was the first fissure in the international alliance putting pressure on Pyongyang to act on its commitment to end its efforts to become a nuclear power and effectively delayed further discussions on extra sanctions for as long as six months.

The US claims on the basis of intelligence that North Korea using ship-to-ship transfers in international waters has breached a cap of 500,000 barrels of refined oil a year – imposed by the security council in December. The US had demanded an immediate halt to all further oil transfers. “Strict enforcement of sanctions” was critical to achieving the goal of North Korea’s denuclearisation, Pompeo said.

Despite the diplomatic reverse, Pompeo said after his briefing with the UN that he remained confident that it will be possible to reach an agreement on North Korean denuclearisation, saying it was even possible to envisage North Korea attending meetings at the UN “not as a pariah, but as a friend”.

But his call for Russia and China to act on the evidence of North Korean sanctions evasion represents a change in tone from previous US optimistic assessments of the direction the Pyongyang regime was taking. His remarks underscored the US belief that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is acting under duress, and a united international sanctions regime is critical to ensuring final verified denuclearisation.

Kim made a broad commitment to denuclearise at an unprecedented summit with Donald Trump in June, but offered no details as to how and when this might take place, leaving considerable doubts about Pyongyang’s intentions.

Pompeo reiterated his view that it would take some time and the path ahead was difficult. He also called for sanctions to be tightened on coal imports.

Pompeo visited Pyongyang in early July and the two sides struggled to make headway on the denuclearisation issue. At the end of the talks the North Korean foreign ministry accused the US of making unilateral demands and behaving like gangsters.

The US senator Lindsey Graham, representing a current of thinking inside the Republican party, said he feared that China had intervened to sour the talks. “I see China’s hands all over this,” he said in the wake of the fruitless Pompeo talks. Pompeo’s visit came immediately after the US on 6 Julyslapped tariffs on $34bn of goods from China, a move that China promptly matched. On Friday Trump threatened to impose tariffs on all $505bn in Chinese imports.

Pompeo’s UN briefing was undertaken jointly with the South Korean foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, who has struck a more optimistic note this week. She said there was a shared analysis of the situation between China and the US and implied the North Korean leader had taken an irreversible decision. Speaking at Chatham House she said scepticism was necessary given the history of past failed talks but went on: “I think that what is clear is that there is the political will that was not there in any previous negotiations, from the top level, to move in that direction.”

She added: “Having come out this far, for him to go back, I think will be hugely risky.”

On the North’s demolition of its nuclear-testing site in Punggye-ri, she said, “We will press them, at some point, to verify that this is a genuine closure.”

She warned “given the pace of developments there is an expectation that things are going to move very fast. We need to pace ourselves because this will take time.”

She also said the US troop presence in South Korea was not part of the talks with the North.

This article provided by NewsEdge.