U.S. Eases U.N. Measure on North Korea to Coax Votes from China, Russia

By Farnaz FassihiFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote on a sanctions resolution on North Korea on Monday after U.S. officials eased their demands in the quest for an endorsement of the measure by China and Russia.

The U.S., which drafted the initial resolution while pledging the harshest possible sanctions yet, rolled back its initial insistence on a complete oil embargo and asset and travel freezes targeting North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, according to diplomats and a draft of the final version of the resolution seen by The Wall Street Journal.

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The new resolution would impose an embargo on all textile trade and require inspections and monitoring of North Korea's sea vessels by member states, but doesn't provide for the use of military force to gain access to the ships.

A proposed ban on North Korean foreign workers, a source of an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue to the regime, also was reworded to allow countries to employ North Korean nationals if deemed vital for humanitarian reasons. It also wouldn't apply to workers who hold contracts taking effect before the adoption of the resolution.

As well, proposals to comprehensively target all oil and refined petroleum, seen by the U.S. and allies as the final resort for pressuring Pyongyang economically, are being relaxed in the new sanctions measure. The resolution would ban all condensates and natural-gas liquids, but imposes a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products while capping allowable oil exports at current levels.

China and Russia, both veto-holding powers on the 15-member Security Council, had voiced opposition to harsher measures and threatened to block the vote if the ban on oil remained, diplomats said. China is reluctant to pressure the North Korean regime to the brink of collapse fearing instability at its border, a flow of refugees and a possible American military presence. Russia and China have both said they favor direct talks and not sanctions.

Security Council diplomats said they expected the resolution to pass unanimously and that even the compromises made on the resolution still imposed tough economic measures on North Korea. Sweden's Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters, "I think everyone should be able to live with the resolution as it stands."

After a week of intense negotiations, a unanimous Security Council vote against North Korea was viewed as politically more important than a strong U.S. stand that risked division, diplomats said.

"Any perception of weakness on the side of the Security Council would only encourage the regime to continue its provocations and objectively create the risk of an increasingly extreme situation," said France's Ambassador François Delattre.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear-weapons test earlier this month and asserted that it had acquired the capacity to mount a hydrogen bomb on an intercontinental ballistic missile. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that Pyongyang, North Korea's capital city, was "begging for war" and spearheaded a fast-paced diplomatic response by pushing for U.N. action with a one-week timetable.

North Korea issued a statement on its official KCNA news agency on Monday warning that if the "illegal and unlawful" sanctions resolution passed, Pyongyang would inflict "the greatest pain and suffering" on the U.S.

"In case the U.S. eventually does rig up the illegal and unlawful 'resolution' on harsher sanctions, the DPRK [North Korea] shall make absolutely sure that the U.S. pays due price," the spokesman of the country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

--Jonathan Cheng in Seoul contributed to this article.

Write to Farnaz Fassihi at farnaz.fassihi@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 11, 2017 15:58 ET (19:58 GMT)