UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council on Monday ratcheted up sanctions yet again against North Korea, but they fell significantly short of the far-reaching penalties that the Trump administration had demanded just days ago.
Moreover, it remained wholly unclear whether the additional penalties would persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests — the latest just a week ago, when it detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device. North Korea claimed that detonation was from a hydrogen bomb.
Although the resolution won unanimous backing from all 15 council members, the weakened penalties reflected the power of Russia and China, which had objected to the original language and could have used their votes to veto the measure.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, reacted to the bomb test last week by calling for the fullest range of international sanctions, including a cutoff of all oil supplies, in a new Security Council resolution.
Those demands were toned down in negotiations that followed with her Russian and Chinese counterparts. Late Sunday, after a series of closed-door meetings, a revised draft emerged, setting a cap on oil exports to North Korea, but not blocking them altogether.
The resolution asks countries around the world to inspect ships going in and out of North Korea's ports (a provision put in place by the Security Council in 2009) but does not authorize the use of force for ships that do not comply, as the Trump administration had originally proposed. The resolution also requires those inspections to be done with the consent of the countries where the ships are registered, which opens the door to violations. Under the latest resolution, those ships could face penalties, but the original language proposed by the United States went much further, empowering countries to interdict ships suspected of carrying weapons material or fuel into North Korea and to use "all necessary measures" — diplomatic code for the deployment of military force — to enforce compliance.
Nor does the resolution impose a travel ban or asset freeze on the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, as the original U.S. draft had set out. And the new measure adds a caveat to the original language that would have banned the import of North Korean laborers altogether, saying that countries should not provide work authorization papers unless necessary for humanitarian assistance or denuclearization. The weakened language was a nod to Russia, a big user of imported North Korean labor.
The new draft does ban textile exports out of North Korea, prohibits the sale of natural gas to North Korea and sets a cap on refined petroleum sales to two million barrels per year. That would shave off roughly 10 percent of what North Korea currently gets from China, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
China had long worried that an oil cutoff altogether would lead to North Korea's collapse.