Friday, October 13, 2006

U.S. pushes for vote on North Korea sanctions

The United States is circulating a new draft resolution at the United Nations that pushes for non-military sanctions against North Korea. It also includes one of China's demands -- that further action require another UN resolution.

China and Russia have urged the U.S. to take a more measured approach in dealing with North Korea, after the communist state claimed to have successfully carried out a nuclear test.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said that the U.S. is in favour of keeping diplomatic channels open but also wants swift action, not more meetings.

"I think the council should try to respond to a nuclear test within the same week that the test occurred," he said.

Both the U.S. and Japan had originally hoped for a Thursday vote, but if Washington wants to win the approval of China and Russia -- both next-door neighbors to North Korea -- it's unlikely a vote will occur before next week.

The newest draft circulated by the U.S. authorizes sanctions against North Korea under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which normally allows potential military action.

But the proposed resolution would only operate under Article 41, calling for non-military sanctions like banning air travel or economic punishment. It also scraps a blanket arms embargo, although still includes sanctions on specific military equipment like tanks.

China has resisted American efforts to impose sanctions, saying it would be better to keep communication channels with Pyongyang open.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said North Korea should understand it had made a mistake but "punishment should not be the purpose" of any UN action.

The UN's response "should be conducive to the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula ... and the resumption of the talks," he told reporters Thursday.

"It's necessary to express clearly to North Korea that ... the international community is opposed to this nuclear test."

N. Korea threatens countermeasures

North Korea will consider the U.S. pressure "a declaration of war" and would take unspecified "countermeasures," RI Kong Son, vice spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, told AP Television News.

A North Korean official also threatened "strong countermeasures" against Japan for new sanctions against the communist regime, a Japanese news agency reported from Pyongyang on Thursday.

The threat comes a day after the Japanese government decided on a package of additional economic sanctions against the impoverished nation -- including a ban on all imports from the country and the docking of North Korean ships in Japanese ports.

"That's about a $150 million in trade this year between the two countries," said Chao, "and it's a big blow to North Korea because their economy is rather small and they rely heavily on trade with Japan."

North Korean produce such as clams and mushrooms earns precious foreign currency on the Japanese market, so a ban could be disastrous for the country.

Ferries also serve as a major conduit of communication between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.

North Korean nationals also were prohibited from entering Japan, with limited exceptions, the Japanese Cabinet Office said in a statement.

The sanctions are expected to go into effect after they are approved by Japan's Cabinet Friday.

Japan urges return to talks

Sadaaki Numata, the Japanese ambassador to Canada, said the sanctions are necessary given Japan's proximity to North Korea.

"We feel that their threat to us has been redoubled," Numata told CTV's Canada AM when asked why Japan is taking such strong action ahead of the UN resolution vote.

"And given our proximity to North Korea and given that they do actually have in place missiles which can cover the whole of Japan, we do feel that this is indeed a very grave challenge or threat to us."

Sadaaki said Japan is urging North Korea to return to the six-party talks -- a series of meetings with six participating states including China, South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., Russia and Japan -- aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the security concerns raised by the North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"We will continue to urge their return to this diplomatic solution."

But Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of diplomatic normalization talks with Japan, warned that Pyongyang "will take strong countermeasures" against Japanese sanctions, news agency Kyodo quoted him as saying.

"The specific contents will become clear if you keep watching. We never speak empty words," he added.

Song said Pyongyang considered Japan's measures as "more serious in nature" than those of other nations, because Tokyo has yet to adequately atone for its colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

He added that North Korea was closely watching new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office last month and is known for his hardline views on Pyongyang.

The Kyodo report quoted Song as suggesting that Pyongyang would not hold normalization talks with Japan as long as sanctions are in place. Those talks are stalled over issues including the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s.

"I wonder if we can hold talks under these kinds of circumstances," Song said.

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