U.N. sanctions on N. Korea questioned

October 16, 2006|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO --Questions over the effectiveness of the Security Council's punitive sanctions against North Korea for its claimed nuclear test grew yesterday, as both South Korea and China - the North's two most important trading partners - indicated that business and economic relations would largely be unaffected.

A day after the council unanimously passed the resolution after nearly a week of intensive diplomatic negotiations, the South Korean government said it would still pursue economic projects with North Korea, including an industrial zone and tourist resort in the North. Those projects are not explicitly covered by the Security Council resolution, but they are an important source of hard currency for the North.

China, which shares a porous 870-mile border with North Korea and is perhaps its most critical economic gateway to the outside world, said Saturday that it had no intention of stopping and inspecting cross-border shipments, as called for in the resolution. The Chinese government said nothing yesterday about how it intended to implement the sanctions, and U.S. officials said they would be focused on whether the normal trade flow across the border is slowed.

North Korea, which announced Oct. 9 that it had detonated a nuclear device, has denounced the resolution, accused the Security Council of gangsterism and warned that any U.S. pressure on the North Korean government would be regarded as an act of war. But North Korea has not specified what it might do next in response to the resolution, which imposes the most severe curbs on the isolated country since the armistice that halted the Korean War.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that China is part of "a Security Council resolution that demands very clear cooperation of member states to make certain that dangerous goods are not getting in and out of North Korea," and that she expected cooperation. But in interviews on two television shows yesterday, she acknowledged that exactly how China cooperates remained unclear, and she hinted that the United States would not rush to interdict North Korean ships at sea, at least initially. Instead, she said, she expected most searches to take place at ports.

"This is a powerful tool, but it's also a tool that needs to be used carefully," she said, adding: "I don't think I want to speculate about how it's going to be used." Responding to statements by the Chinese ambassador at the United Nations that China would not interdict shipments at its border with North Korea, Rice said on Fox News Sunday that China's support of the resolution was effectively a pledge of "cooperation in stopping the proliferation trade with North Korea."

She said she was "quite certain" that China would act in accordance with this objective, but she declined to offer details. The resolution approved Saturday condemning North Korea and calling for sanctions against it "came about more rapidly, perhaps, than any in recent memory of this magnitude," Rice said on Face the Nation on CBS. "So there will be some matters to be worked out."

The resolution, drafted by the United States, bans trade with North Korea in materials linked with weapons of mass destruction, and authorizes countries to inspect cargo going into and out of North Korea. This last measure was diluted, however, by China's insistence that the resolution state that countries be requested, not required, to do so.

In Japan, however, enthusiasm for the new resolution was greater. Hawkish politicians close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Japanese were prepared to assist the U.S. military in inspecting North Korean ships and called for a debate on whether Japan should possess nuclear arms. Abe has said he has no intention of changing the government's longtime ban on the weapons.

Like China, South Korea fears that inspecting North Korean ships by force could lead to a military confrontation. As a result, despite pressure from Washington, South Korea has not joined the three-year-old U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative.

"We judged that the contents of the resolution of the U.N. Security Council do not directly affect the economic cooperation programs between the two Koreas, including Kaesong and Kumgang Mountain," Choo Kyu-ho, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said yesterday, referring to the industrial park and tourist resort. "We will go ahead with the economic cooperation programs in harmony with the resolution."

"Limited sanctions and cooperation will continue, so we're basically in the same boat as before," said David C. Kang, a Korea expert at Dartmouth College who was visiting Seoul. "It's untenable globally to oppose sanctions right now. So South Korea will go along with them for a while, put some projects on hold, but resume them in a year or sooner."

Kang added, "The sanctions are at best Kabuki theater. They're not going to have much effect on North Korea's behavior."

China's opposition to restricting the flow of nonmilitary goods to North Korea and its apparent reluctance to inspect cargo shipments in or out of the country for materials banned by the U.N. sanctions could sharply limit their effectiveness.

The utility of seaborne inspections of North Korean cargo ships by the United States or Japan could be undermined if the North Korean government determines that it can import or export sensitive goods through Chinese ports.

Even so, Beijing agreed to punitive sanctions on North Korea for the first time, and the implementation details may take longer to negotiate. Whether they will be made public remains unclear. Government officials in China typically do not provide detailed information about policies relating to North Korea or other sensitive matters.

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