U.N. to vote in ‘coming days’ on North Korea sanctions – U.S. official

A woman watches a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea’s launch of three missiles including one thought to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), in Seoul, South Korea, May 25, 2022.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council will vote in the “coming days” on a U.S.-led push to strengthen sanctions on North Korea for its renewed ballistic missile launches, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, although China and Russia have signaled opposition.

North Korea fired three missiles on Wednesday, including one thought to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, after U.S. President Joe Biden ended a trip to Asia. It was the latest in a string of missile launches by North Korea this year.

The United States began a push at the end of March on sanctions and then last month circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member body. A resolution needs nine “yes” votes and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.

The draft would “further restrict North Korea’s ability to advance its unlawful WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic missile programs, it would streamline sanctions implementation and further facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need,” the U.S. official said.

The draft text, seen by Reuters, includes extending a ban on ballistic missile launches to apply to cruise missiles or “any other delivery system capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006, which the Security Council has steadily – and unanimously – stepped up over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

The council last tightened sanctions on Pyongyang in 2017, but since then Beijing and Moscow have pushed for an easing of the measures on humanitarian grounds. The United States and allies say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is to blame for the humanitarian situation.

Chain smoker Kim

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters earlier on Wednesday that he would wait to see the final U.S. draft text before commenting, but that he didn’t believe U.N. action would be “very conducive” to engagement with North Korea.

Kim is known as a chain smoker – frequently seen with a cigarette in hand in photographs in state media – and the draft resolution would ban exports to North Korea of tobacco and manufactured tobacco.

The draft proposes cutting crude oil exports to North Korea by 1 million barrels to 3 million barrels annually and reducing refined petroleum exports by 125,000 barrels to 375,000 barrels. It also seeks to ban North Korean exports of “mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation.”

The hermit Asian state has successfully evaded some U.N. sanctions, according to U.N. monitors, who reported in February that North Korean cyberattacks were earning Pyongyang hundreds of millions of dollars.

The draft resolution would impose an asset freeze on Lazarus hacking group, which the United States says is controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s primary intelligence agency.

Lazarus has been accused of involvement in the “WannaCry” ransomware attacks, hacking of international banks and customer accounts, and the 2014 cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment.