DPRK (North Korea)
Key Recent Developments
On 27 January the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) exchanged artillery fire near disputed coastal waters. No casualties were reported.
Wi Sung-lac, the top negotiator from the ROK met with US officials from 20 to 23 January about restarting the six-party talks involving the DPRK, China, Japan, ROK, Russia and the US. (The DPRK withdrew from the talks in April 2009).
On 11 January the DPRK stated its willingness to negotiate on nuclear disarmament. But it also insisted on the lifting of sanctions and a peace treaty. (A peace treaty would formally end the Korean War, which concluded in 1953 with an armistice agreement.) These were the first indications from the DPRK about its possible return to the six-party talks since Stephen Bosworth, the US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, visited the DPRK in December 2009. On 12 January both the ROK and the US said that it was not acceptable to establish preconditions such as a peace treaty or sanctions being lifted prior to the DPRK reengaging in talks.
During a news conference on 5 January, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China—the January Council president—stressed the importance of all parties taking steps to resume the six-party talks.
On 11 December 2009, Thailand seized an aircraft flying from the DPRK after it landed for refuelling. It was reportedly carrying approximately 35 tons of weapons and related material, appearing to constitute a violation of the sanctions imposed on the DPRK in resolution 1874 (adopted after the DPRK’s underground nuclear test in 2009). The final destination of the arms shipment remains unclear.
Bosworth visited the DPRK from 8 to 10 December 2009. He delivered a personal letter from US President Barack Obama to DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il. At the conclusion of his trip, Bosworth stated that the DPRK had not agreed to resume negotiations on its nuclear disarmament, but had offered assurance that it still supported the six-party process. The DPRK stated that while differences with the US had been narrowed, continued cooperation was needed for further progress to occur.
On 19 November 2009 Council members met in informal consultations for a briefing from the DPRK Sanctions Committee (established by resolution 1718 after the DPRK’s 2006 nuclear test). In remarks to the press, members confirmed that they had received the Committee’s regular ninety-day report, as well as the Panel of Expert’s interim report. Members welcomed the commencement of the Panel’s work and encouraged current diplomatic efforts, but stressed the need for the DPRK’s full compliance with Council resolutions. Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu stated that mixed signals from the DPRK continued, with its possible return to six-party talks offset by a continuation of provocative and unhelpful acts, as well as the Panel’s assessment that the DPRK was actively attempting to evade sanctions imposed against it.
On 10 November 2009 DPRK and ROK navy ships exchanged fire in disputed waters. The ROK stated that it had suffered no casualties in the incident.
On 3 November 2009 the DPRK announced that it had completed processing 8,000 nuclear fuel rods, producing more plutonium for its nuclear weapons programme. The US stated that this continuing production of plutonium violated Council resolutions.
The outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the DPRK was adopted by the Working Group of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 9 December 2009. The DPRK indicated that fifty of the Working Group’s recommendations did not have its support, while the remaining 117 recommendations would be the subject of response after examination. The reply of the DPRK to these recommendations will be included in the outcome report to be adopted by the HRC at its next session (1-26 March). Recommendations made by participants in the Working Group during the review included the need to ratify various human rights instruments and to join the International Labour Organization. A number of recommendations were based on concerns including the need for cooperation with human rights mechanisms, promoting gender equality, ensuring the access to food and ending extrajudicial executions.
In January the HRC Special Rapporteur on DPRK, Vitit Muntarbhorn, expressed concern about the increased severity with which DPRK has punished citizens who have tried to flee the country over the last two years.
As it remains unclear if or when the DPRK will return to negotiations on its nuclear disarmament in a substantive way, an issue for the Council is whether it can play any role in bridging the gap between the parties.
A second and related issue is whether the Council should limit its role to maintaining the continued implementation of sanctions currently in place.
A third issue is whether sanctions should soon be modified to increase pressure on the DPRK, such as including additional entities or individuals subject to the regime.
A key underlying problem is the lack of trust between the DPRK and other members of the six-party talks and the US. Past attempts to conceal its nuclear weapons programme are also very real impediments. It is unclear whether others can play any useful role in building the level of trust necessary for meaningful negotiations that might lead to a solution.
the Council sending a further warning to the DPRK by designating additional entities, individuals and goods that are subject to the sanctions imposed in resolutions 1718 and 1874;
a statement of policy by the Council confirming to the DPRK its position on preconditions through a presidential or press statement; and
taking no public action at present.
Council and Wider Dynamics
It is expected that the Sanctions Committee briefing will lead to discussion of the arms shipment intercepted in Thailand, though the Committee is still in the process of gathering information about the incident. At press time it appeared uncertain whether an initial assessment of state implementation of the sanctions regime, prepared for the Committee by the Panel of Experts, would also be discussed. Though there is some difference of opinion with regard to the procedure by which the Experts undertake country visits, members seem satisfied that this will be resolved.
The consensus in the Council in 2009, which resulted in enhanced sanctions through resolution 1874, is holding. Members remain supportive of the established Council approach to the DPRK.
There seems to be no momentum for expanding the scope of the current sanctions regime at this time. However, some members point to the recent arms shipment intercepted in Thailand as evidence that sanctions are having an effect on the DPRK’s ability to generate income from arms sales. The US, China and Japan still seem convinced of the centrality of the six-party process. Most other Council members continue to defer to this view. Accordingly, developments on this front (and the related DPRK-US direct engagement) remain the determining factor in the Council.
Selected Council Resolutions
Selected Presidential Statement
Sanctions Committee Annual Reports
Chair of the 1718 Sanctions Committee
Ertugrul Apakan (Turkey)
Shades of Red: China’s Debate over North Korea, International Crisis Group, Asia Report No. 179, 2 November 2009