Expected Council Action
No Council action is expected, provided that the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme are sustained. However, the Sanctions Committee will report on implementation of resolution 1718.
Key Recent Developments
On 18 December, six-nation talks between the US, Russia, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) resumed in Beijing. The talks were suspended in November 2005 when North Korea refused further participation until the US lifted financial restrictions against eight firms linked to North Korea and on North Korean accounts in the Banco Delta Asia in Macau. The US agreed to have bilateral discussions of the restrictions on the sidelines of the December talks.
At the opening of the 18 December discussions, North Korea demanded that UN sanctions and US financial restrictions be lifted, and asked for a nuclear reactor to generate electricity. The other five indicated that North Korea should begin to implement the September 2005 agreement under which it agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
The US offered to normalise relations with North Korea if it halts its nuclear programme but wanted to consider the financial restrictions issue separately from denuclearisation. North Korea, on the other hand, was reluctant to discuss dismantling its nuclear programme until the US financial restrictions were lifted.
The Sanctions Committee on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has had little output in November and December. In October it adopted lists of prohibited trade items in nuclear, chemical and biological materials. Since then, the Committee has focused on its internal procedure, including guidelines for implementing resolution 1718. The drop-off in momentum may be related in part to other Council priorities, but probably also reflects a basic level of satisfaction with the results so far in bringing North Korea to the table.
Resolution 1718 of 14 October 2006 called upon member states to report within thirty days of its adoption on steps taken to implement its provisions. Forty countries have sent reports to the Committee.
The incoming Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hinted that the issue of North Korea may be a priority for him and that he may decide to appoint an envoy. Some member states are already saying that, as a former close participant in the issue as South Korea’s foreign minister, it would be preferable for the Secretary-General to take a low-key approach.
However, if the talks collapse or make little progress, pressure to intensify implementation of resolution 1718 is likely. Options would include:
requesting the Committee to agree on guidelines and report back within a specified period of time;
requesting the Committee to designate individuals and entities to be subject to sanctions and bans; and
requesting the Committee to recommend measures to strengthen resolution 1718.
The key issue for the Council will be responding to the developments, or lack thereof, at the talks in Beijing. A subsidiary issue will be whether the five sitting at the table with North Korea share a common view of progress and, if so, whether they agree that the application of pressure would be useful or not.
In the interim, progress on designating individuals or entities subject to restrictions and bans is likely to proceed at a deliverable pace. So far, only Japan has submitted a list for consideration.
Resolution 1718 required protracted negotiations before unanimous adoption. Since then, China and the US have worked together and appear to have similar goals with respect to North Korea’s nuclear programme. China’s willingness to put pressure on North Korea has been crucial in getting it to come back to the table, as has US willingness to engage in bilateral discussions. Russia has sent out mixed messages. It sees the main objective of resolution 1718 as a political resolution of the nuclear situation. On the other hand, it did not easily agree on the original list of biological and chemical banned items (which may have something to do with its origins in the Australia Group, to which Russia does not belong). It insisted on a new list with Russian input. Given the technical nature of the Committee’s work and the absence of a group of experts, some Committee members have found it difficult to contribute without a disarmament expert on their team.
There are an estimated 100,000 North Korean refugees in China and 9,000 in South Korea. With acute food shortages, caused partly by recent flooding and suspension of South Korean rice aid, additional refugees are possible during the current winter. The UN sanctions do not apply to food. However, agencies like UNICEF are concerned that in the current environment donors will stand back.
|Selected Security Council Resolutions
For historical background please refer to our November Forecast.