August 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2019
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ASIA

DPRK (North Korea)

Expected Council Action

In August, the chair of the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (Germany), is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the 90-day report about the committee’s work.

Key Recent Developments

The period following the collapse of the second US-DPRK summit in Hanoi in February was marked by the absence of continued engagement between the two countries on denuclearisation and other issues. More recently, over the past several weeks, there has been a surge of diplomatic activity around the DPRK. During his visit to South Korea in June, US President Donald Trump issued an allegedly impromptu invitation to DPRK leader Kim Jong-un to meet at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas. On 30 June, Trump and Kim held an hour-long meeting at the DMZ. In a symbolic gesture during a media photo opportunity, Trump and Kim walked across the demarcation line into DPRK territory. The meeting did not have a specific agenda, nor did it produce a formal outcome. Both sides agreed, however, to resume stalled negotiations on denuclearisation.

On 20 June, Chinese President Xi Jinping began an official two-day visit to Pyongyang, during which he met with Kim. The talks focused mainly on economic cooperation between the two countries. During the visit, Xi emphasised the importance of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and its implications for regional stability. He expressed hope that the US-DPRK talks would continue. Kim noted that the DPRK had taken action to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula but criticised the other side, alluding to the US, for the lack of positive response. Yet he emphasised that the DPRK was willing to remain patient and address the concerns of each side through dialogue.

In an 11 June letter addressed to the chair of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, the US submitted a report containing details of the DPRK’s continued violations of sanctions. The US alleged in the report that the DPRK has continued to engage in the illegal procurement of petroleum products, exceeding the import limits established by the sanctions regime. The US has requested the committee to issue statements that would inform member states about the DPRK’s breach and call on members to enforce sanctions. The cover letter was co-signed by two dozen member states, including Japan and the Republic of Korea. It appears that two members of the committee have blocked action by the committee on this issue. A similar situation occurred in July last year when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought to the attention of Council members in an informal meeting the reports of alleged DPRK sanctions breaches regarding oil imports. At that time, the US openly blamed Russia and China for blocking the committee from addressing the issue.

In May, the US seized one of the DPRK cargo ships that the US alleges were used to export coal and evade UN sanctions. The vessel had been held in an Indonesian port since April 2018 after it was discovered that the ship came from the DPRK. The DPRK has since requested that the US release the vessel, claiming that US actions violate the spirit of the agreement between Trump and Kim reached in Singapore last year. At press time, the vessel remained in US custody, now in American Samoa.

Key Issues and Options

While the environment is still volatile, tensions on the Korean peninsula have decreased significantly over the last year. The DPRK has continued to refrain from testing long-range ballistic missiles. The Council continues to be concerned with maintaining stability on the peninsula but has kept a relatively low profile on the DPRK, with most diplomatic activity taking place outside its purview. The Council has been cautious about pronouncing itself on bilateral diplomatic developments, but members could consider a formal product showing support for a third summit before the end of 2019.

A continuing issue for the Council is finding the right balance between applying sanctions and simultaneously exploring the diplomatic track. An option is to explore ways to modify the sanctions on the DPRK to encourage further engagement on the diplomatic front.

Some Council members are concerned about the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The Council could seek more regular interaction with OCHA to obtain more detailed information for its consideration of humanitarian exemptions. Another option would be to consider having the Panel of Experts assisting the sanctions committee add an expert on humanitarian issues who could analyse the impact of sanctions on the civilian population.

The ongoing dire human rights situation in the DPRK remains an issue. Although there seemed to be insufficient support among members to discuss this in 2018, an option would be for the Council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK in 2019.

Council Dynamics

The Council has continued to maintain a low profile on the DPRK while diplomatic efforts outside the Council play out. Over the past several months, Council dynamics have been dominated by diverging views between the US and Russia on the role of sanctions in dealing with the nuclear threat of the DPRK. The US continues to promote a policy of maximum pressure on the DPRK, while Russia and China have shown more interest in considering some form of sanctions relief. During negotiations on the latest resolution renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts, Russia stressed that the Council should address the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK.

Most Council members remain cautious in their optimism about the DPRK’s denuclearisation and supportive of inter-Korean and US-DPRK diplomatic efforts. Some members have shown interest in a new approach toward the Council’s relationship with the DPRK—including responding to positive developments through Council outcomes and other means of showing support for a serious dialogue on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula—but there has been little movement in this direction.

The US is the penholder on the DPRK, and Germany chairs the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DPRK

Security Council Resolutions
10 April 2019S/RES/2464 This resolution extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020.
21 March 2018S/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 2017S/RES/2397 This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, tightening sanctions on the DPRK.
Security Council Presidential Statement
29 August 2017S/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 Records
10 April 2019S/PV.8507 The Council adopted the resolution renewing the mandate of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee until 24 April 2020.
27 September 2018S/PV.8363 This was ministerial-level meeting on denuclearization the DPRK.
26 September 2018S/PV.8362 This is a summit-level meeting on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, chaired by US President Donald Trump.
Sanctions Committee Document
21 December 2018S/2018/1148 This was the report of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.