August 30, 2017 / 4:15 PM / 23 days ago

Japan pushes U.S. to propose new U.N. sanctions on North Korea

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho stands following a meeting by the United Nations Security Council on North Korea at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Japan pushed the United States on Wednesday to propose new United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea, which diplomats said could target the country’s labourers working abroad, oil supply and textile exports.

The United States traditionally drafts resolutions to impose sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. It first negotiates with Pyongyang ally China before involving the remaining 13 council members.

The Security Council condemned North Korea’s “outrageous” firing of a medium-range ballistic missile over northern Japan on Tuesday, but did not threaten new sanctions. Pyongyang said the launch was to counter U.S. and South Korean military drills.

Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho said Tokyo would now like a “strong resolution” on North Korea.

“We will certainly discuss it with the United States,” Bessho told reporters on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said: “While the U.S. and Japan‎ remain in close consultation on North Korea, we are not working on a new resolution at the moment.”

A push for new sanctions is likely to counter resistance from veto-wielding powers China and Russia, diplomats said, particularly given new measures were only recently imposed after Pyongyang staged two long-range missile launches in July.

On Aug. 5 the council unanimously adopted sanctions that could slash by a third the Asian state’s $3 billion annual export revenue by banning exports of coal, iron, lead, and seafood and prohibiting countries from sending any more North Korean labourers to work abroad.

A missile is launched during a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 30, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

‘TIME IS RIGHT’

Typically China and Russia only view a test of a long-range missile or a nuclear weapon as a trigger for further possible U.N. sanctions. North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

However, some council diplomats argue that new measures are needed because this was the first time North Korea had fired a weapons missile over Japan, differing from a 2009 launch over Japan that Pyongyang had forewarned about and said was a rocket carrying a communications satellite into orbit.

“The time is right to consider further constraints on the DPRK regime, given that the constraints that we have put in place so far have clearly not yet got them to change course.” British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said on Wednesday, using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“One other thing we could look at is building on the cap on foreign labourers in (the Aug. 5) resolution ... to see whether we could do more to prevent the flow of money coming into DPRK from North Korean nationals who are working abroad,” he said.

Some diplomats estimate that between 60,000 and 100,000 North Koreans work abroad. A U.N. human rights investigator said in 2015 that North Korea had forced more than 50,000 people to work abroad, mainly in Russia and China, earning between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year.

Diplomats have said Pyongyang’s textile exports, supplies of oil to the government and military and the country’s national airline could also be targeted by any new U.N. sanctions.

Textiles were North Korea’s second-biggest export after coal and other minerals in 2016, totalling $752 million, according to data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Nearly 80 percent of the textile exports went to China, according to Chinese customs data.

Any new sanctions would build on eight resolutions ratcheting up action against Pyongyang over five nuclear tests, four long-range ballistic missile tests and dozens of medium-range rocket launches. The past three substantial resolutions have taken between one and three months to negotiate.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker

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