DPRK (North Korea)
Expected Council Action
In August, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands), is expected to provide Council members with his regular 90-day briefing on the work of the committee.
Key Recent Developments
Diplomatic efforts on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula have continued at intensive and senior levels over the past several months. On 31 May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted General Kim Yong Chol, among the closest advisors to the DPRK leadership, in New York in preparation for the summit between US President Donald Trump and the DPRK’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Kim Jong-un to discuss ongoing diplomatic efforts on denuclearisation. Addressing the media after the meeting, Lavrov called for a gradual lifting of sanctions on the DPRK, saying that there could be no comprehensive solution to the DPRK issue without sanctions relief.
On 12 June, Kim and Trump met in Singapore and signed a joint declaration committing both countries to work towards building new relations, building lasting peace on the peninsula, and working towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Following the summit, Trump told the media that he had also agreed to cancel the US joint military exercises with South Korea. Kim and Trump did not specifically define the meaning of the term “complete denuclearisation”, however, or provide any timeline for this process.
Pompeo travelled to Beijing on 14 June, where he held meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Among other things, Pompeo emphasised that the US is determined to achieve “the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. He further stressed the importance of full implementation of the relevant Council resolutions on the DPRK.
On 18 June, Xi hosted Kim during a two-day visit to Beijing. While the exact details of the discussions were not revealed, Chinese state media reported that both leaders agreed to deepen the relations between the two countries and that Xi praised the outcome of the 12 June summit. The meeting took place amid an escalating trade dispute between the US and China.
In early July, Pompeo travelled to Pyongyang, where he met with Kim Yong Chol to assess progress and continue consultations following the 12 June summit. After the meeting, Pompeo described the talks as productive. The North Korean foreign ministry, however, issued a statement describing the US attitude at the meeting as regrettable and contrary to the spirit of the 12 June summit.
On 20 July, Pompeo held an informal meeting with the members of the Security Council as well as South Korea and Japan. The hour-long meeting, held at the South Korean mission, was chaired by the country’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha. Pompeo briefed the meeting on his trip to the DPRK and ongoing diplomatic efforts on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and took questions. He emphasised the importance of maintaining the pressure of sanctions. After the meeting, Pompeo met with Secretary-General António Guterres.
Later that day, Pompeo and US ambassador Nikki Haley held a press stakeout at the UN. Pompeo emphasised that sanctions enforcement by member states remains crucial to the prospects of denuclearisation. He noted that the DPRK has continued to engage in illegal procurement of petroleum products, exceeding the import limits established by the sanctions regime. During the first five months of the year, the US recorded at least 89 illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products bound for the DPRK, said Pompeo.
In her remarks, Haley specifically called out Russia and China for blocking US efforts in the sanctions committee to address these violations. After the US informed the committee of the sanctions violations earlier in July, it requested the committee to issue a statement that would inform member states about the DPRK’s breach and call on members to enforce sanctions measures. Russia and China blocked the committee from issuing the statement, apparently saying they would need more time to examine the US claims.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 25 April statement, the special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Tomás Ojea Quintana, warned that states involved in denuclearisation negotiations must not avoid the topic of human rights. “A denuclearisation deal will remain fragile if it sidelines the rights and needs of the DPRK population”, Quintana said. “Peace and security cannot be achieved only in the form of intergovernmental agreements but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the shape of domestic policies that guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights without discrimination”.
Quintana visited Seoul from 2 to 10 July, during which he met senior government officials of the Republic of Korea, diplomats, representatives of civil society, the Korean Red Cross, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, and people who had recently left the DPRK. In a 10 July press release, he urged the DPRK to open a parallel track for dialogue on human rights alongside peace and denuclearisation. He also emphasised the worsening humanitarian crisis. According to the press release, the UN has reported that chronic food insecurity, early childhood malnutrition, and nutrition insecurity are widespread in the DPRK, and that over 10 million people, or 40 percent of the population, are said to require humanitarian assistance.
Key Issues and Options
The Council faces a myriad of interrelated issues on the DPRK. Chief among them continues to be how to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula amid the still-volatile environment. The recent diplomatic efforts have provided the Council with some cautious optimism about reaching this goal. Most of the diplomatic activity continues to take place outside the Council, and the Council’s role will be largely determined by how these broader geo-political developments play out. Given the relative success of the recent inter-Korean and US-DPRK summits, an option for the Council is to consider a formal product encouraging further similar engagements.
Finding the right balance between applying pressure through sanctions and exploring the diplomatic track will become an increasingly relevant issue. In light of the current diplomatic activity, the Council may need to consider whether it needs a new approach to the DPRK that provides both a “carrot” and a “stick”.
Keeping in mind the Council’s powers under Chapter VIII, an issue for the Council is whether it should encourage regional organisations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to develop confidence-building mechanisms that could support positive diplomatic developments.
A central issue for the committee remains the implementation of sanctions as emphasised by the US last month. One option for the Council would be to bring the issue to the Council and produce a statement calling for full sanctions implementation.
Some Council members are concerned about the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The Council could consider working with OCHA to obtain the information it needs for humanitarian exemptions. Another option would be to consider adding to the monitoring panel assisting the committee an expert on humanitarian issues who could analyse the impact of sanctions on the civilian population.
During the past several months, the Council has kept a low profile on the DPRK, letting diplomatic efforts outside the Council play out and in anticipation of the tangible results stemming from these efforts. While most Council members remain cautious in their optimism about the DPRK’s denuclearisation, they continue to support diplomatic efforts between the US and the DPRK as well as between the two Koreas. Some members are starting to question whether a new approach is needed in the Council’s relationship with the DPRK, including a greater response to positive developments through Council outcomes and other possible means of showing support for serious dialogue on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. At the moment, it seems that some members, such as China and Russia, are open to considering some form of sanctions relief for the DPRK. Other members, and the US in particular, hold the view that the Council should maintain the pressure on the DPRK until it demonstrates concrete actions towards denuclearisation.
The relationship between China and the US has continued to shape Council dynamics on this issue. For many years, these two permanent members have negotiated Council outcomes with little or no involvement from the rest of the Council members. Over the past year, however, Russia has become a more active player on this file.
Last month, Russia, with the support of China, took the lead in blocking the US request for the committee to issue a statement calling on member states to comply with the sanctions on refined petroleum products based on US claims that the DPRK had breached the limit of its annual quota as set out by the sanction regime. China was seen as the main interlocutor with the US because of its perceived leverage with the DPRK. While China is still a key player on this issue, it is possible that ongoing direct talks between the US and the DPRK might alter the long-standing dynamic on this issue.
The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and the Netherlands chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 March 2018 S/RES/2407||This was a resolution, unanimously adopted, extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2019.|
|22 December 2017 S/RES/2397||This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|29 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/16||Condemned the launch of a missile over the territory of Japan and urged the DPRK to comply with previous Council resolutions and presidential statements.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|21 March 2018 S/PV.8210||This was the meeting at which the Council adopted resolution 2407, extending the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2019.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|9 July 2018 SC/13413||This was a press statement on amending two entries, one individual and one entity, on the sanctions list.|
|23 May 2018 SC/13352||This was a press statement on amending one entity on the sanctions list.|
|5 March 2018 S/2018/171||This was the final report of the Panel of Experts which included its findings and recommendations for the Council.|