DPRK (North Korea)
Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to be briefed in informal consultations by Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal), chair of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee.
The committee’s panel of experts, whose mandate was extended in resolution 1985 (2011) until 12 June, is due to submit its final report to the committee by 13 May.
No Council action is expected following the regular 90-day briefing in February.
Key Recent Developments
On 17 December, Kim Jong-il—the leader and top military commander of the DPRK—died at age 69 from what the country’s official KCNA news agency said was “great mental and physical strain.” The announcement of his fatal heart attack was made two days after his death. Kim Jong-il had been the supreme leader of the DPRK since 1994. (In that year he succeeded his father, Kim Il-sung, the so-called “great leader” who is designated in the country’s constitution as the “eternal president” of the DPRK.) Kim Jong-il’s funeral took place on 28 December. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Pyongyang in what appeared to be a meticulously choreographed event to bid farewell to the leader.
On 29 December, Kim Jong-il’s third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, became the DPRK’s supreme military commander. (Kim Jong-un is reportedly in his late 20s.) The country’s official news agency reported that this decision was in accordance with a will made by the late Kim Jong-il on 8 October.
Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Chang Song-taek, is reported to be a close advisor to his nephew and is expected to play a significant role as the “great successor” gains experience and consolidates power. Chang, who is married to Kim Jong-il’s sister (Kim Kyong-hui), is vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission. This position is considered second only to that of the supreme leader.
In response to Kim Jong-il’s death, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said that it hoped the two countries could carry on working together for peace in the Korean peninsula. Similarly, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that his country enjoyed friendly relations with the DPRK and expressed hope that the loss would not negatively impact the two countries’ bilateral relationship.
In a brief press statement issued by the White House, the US reiterated that it was committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, as well as to the freedom and security of its allies. William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary, said that the death could be a turning point for the DPRK. Germany said that its expectations of the DPRK remained the same: give up its nuclear programme and improve the “catastrophic social situation of its own people.” France called for the continuing of dialogue with the DPRK and others, including China, so that the country would renounce its nuclear weapons.
On 19 December, coincidentally the day that Kim Jong-il’s death was publicly announced, the General Assembly adopted its annual (since 2003) resolution condemning the DPRK’s human rights record (A/RES/66/174). The resolution, which passed by a vote of 123-16 with 51 abstentions, urged the government in Pyongyang to end its “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights”, which included public executions and arbitrary detentions. The DPRK rejected the resolution, saying it was politically motivated and based on fabrications.
On 17 January, senior officials from Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the US met in Washington to discuss coordination of next steps with respect to the stalled six-party talks. (The three countries represent half of the states involved in the talks; the others are China, Russia and the DPRK. Six-party negotiations have not taken place since December 2008.) The US and the DPRK held two rounds of talks in 2011, in New York and Geneva, although Kim Jong-il’s death put the prospect of a further round on hold.
On 11 January, the country’s official news agency reported that a spokesperson from the DPRK’s foreign ministry said that the US had offered food aid and a suspension of sanctions if the DPRK halted its uranium enrichment programme. A State Department spokesperson denied that the US was linking the issues and said that Washington was still considering the DPRK’s longstanding request for food assistance.
Human Rights-Related Developments
A key issue for the Council is the security situation on the Korean peninsula and stability in the region following the death of Kim Jong-il.
A related issue is the possible resumption of the six-party talks, which has as its core goal the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.
The recommendations made to the DPRK sanctions committee by the panel of experts in its report in May last year have yet to be implemented. The report has still not been published, despite protestations from several Council members that the UN membership at large has a right to read the report. (Decisions within the committee require consensus, which is absent.)
One option for the sanctions committee would be to review the lists of entities subject to the sanctions imposed by resolution 1718 (2006). (Council members in favour of this action say such an endeavour would not need to expand the lists but rather could be limited to making changes to companies’ names and other “house-keeping” measures.) This list has not been updated since 16 July 2009.
In order to give greater guidance to member states concerning the ban on supplying, selling or transferring luxury goods to the DPRK, the committee could provide an Implementation Assistance Notice, without the need to agree on an exhaustive list.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The sanctions committee was deadlocked on a number of issues in 2011. Within the Council, China, Russia and the US are the lead on DPRK issues. The countries have had differences concerning conditions that they say must be met by the DPRK before returning to six-party talks. The US says that Pyongyang must halt its uranium enrichment programme, permit international nuclear inspectors to return to the DPRK and improve inter-Korean relations as a prerequisite. Russia says that the talks should re-start without any such preconditions, while China considers that the parties involved must seize the opportunities created by positive interactions to resume the negotiating process.
Following its recent trilateral meeting with Japan and the ROK, the US released a statement saying that the three countries reaffirmed their goal of a peacefully denuclearised Korean peninsula. The countries agreed that “a path was open” to the DPRK toward the resumption of talks and improved relations through dialogue.
Council members are likely to wait to see if some of the tentative steps made at the political level in the second half of 2011 continue under Kim Jong-un. The DPRK leadership has presented an image of continuity and stability in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death. In the absence of any provocative steps being taken or a deterioration of the security situation, there seems little appetite for the Council to take action that might be seen as undermining the resumption of six-party talks. There will likely be significant interest in the Council as the DPRK approaches the 100th anniversary of the “eternal president” Kim Il-sung’s birth on 15 April, which is likely to be a monumental event in the country
Security Council Resolutions
Other Relevant Facts
Chairman of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006)
Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal).