Europeans, UK tell U.N. Navalny poisoning a ‘threat to international peace, security’

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny “constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” Britain, France, Germany, Estonia and Belgium wrote in a letter to the United Nations Security Council, seen by Reuters on Thursday.

“We call on the Russian Federation to disclose, urgently, fully and in a transparent manner, the circumstances of this attack and to inform the Security Council in this regard,” they said in the letter sent to the 15-member body late on Wednesday.

Navalny was flown to Berlin in August after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight. He received treatment for what Germany said was poisoning by a potentially deadly nerve agent, Novichok, before being discharged in September.

The letter to the Security Council said that on Sept. 2 the German government confirmed that tests had shown “unequivocal proof that Mr Navalny had been poisoned by a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group, which was developed by the Soviet Union and subsequently held by its successor state” Russia.

Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and said it has yet to see evidence of a crime. The Russian mission to the United Nations did not have an immediate comment on the letter.

The European members of the Security Council and Britain noted that last November the Security Council adopted a statement reaffirming that any use of chemical weapons “anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstance is unacceptable and a threat to international peace and security.”

“As such, we consider that the use of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group in the abhorrent poisoning of Mr Alexey Navalny constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” they wrote.

The letter was sent as Russia takes the monthly presidency of the Security Council for October.

The United States did not sign the letter, but on Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The Russian Government must provide a full accounting for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and hold those involved responsible.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

‘Before it is too late’: Diplomats race to defuse tensions ahead of North Korea’s deadline

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – A last minute flurry of diplomacy aimed at engaging with North Korea ahead of its declared year-end deadline for talks has been met with stony silence from Pyongyang so far, with the looming crisis expected to top the agenda at summits in China next week.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was due to leave Beijing on Friday after meeting with Chinese officials. Earlier in the week, Biegun also made stops in Seoul and Tokyo for discussions with counterparts.

It is unclear if Biegun had any behind-the-scenes contact with North Korean officials, but his overtures and calls for new talks were not publicly answered by Pyongyang.

Biegun’s trip came as China and Russia teamed up this week to propose a resolution that would ease some United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea as a way to jumpstart talks.

Next week, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese leaders are due to meet in China, with North Korea likely to top the agenda.

“It’s kind of creepy that there haven’t been any statements from high level (North Korea) Foreign Ministry officials this week…,” Jenny Town, managing editor at the North Korea monitoring website 38 North, said on Twitter. “The silence, even after Biegun’s speech in Seoul, makes me concerned.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given the United States until the end of the year to propose new concessions in talks over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and reducing tensions between the long-time adversaries.

North Korea has said it is up to the United States to decide what “Christmas gift” it will receive this year, without specifying what Kim’s decision may be.

The prospect that 2020 may see a return to heightened tensions and major missile or weapons tests by North Korea has led politicians, diplomats, and analysts around the world to debate how to salvage diplomacy after U.S. President Donald Trump’s unprecedented summits with Kim over the past two years failed to make a breakthrough.

On Wednesday, four leading Democrats in the U.S. Senate wrote a letter to Trump arguing that U.S. efforts to establish peace on the peninsula and denuclearize North Korea “appear to be stalled and on the brink of failure”.

“We reiterate our hope that you will execute a serious diplomatic plan before it is too late,” the letter said.

‘THE BEST PLAN’

The Senate Democrats’ letter called for the administration to seek an interim agreement to freeze and roll back some of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes in conjunction with reduced pressure from sanctions.

“While such an agreement would of course only be a first step in a longer process, it would nonetheless be an important effort to create the sort of real and durable diplomatic process that is necessary,” they wrote.

China and Russia on Monday introduced a joint proposal that calls on the U.N. Security Council to lift some sanctions on exports and foreign workers, with Chinese officials calling it the “the best plan in the current situation to resolve the stalemate”.

The United States has said it is opposed to any sanctions relief at the moment, but has also said it is willing to be flexible in discussions.

Meanwhile, analysts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that has often advocated for a hard line against countries such as North Korea and Iran, called for the Trump administration to turn to implement a “maximum pressure 2.0” campaign.

The United States should increase sanctions, target North Korea with offensive cyber operations, and carry out an “aggressive” information campaign against the country, the foundation wrote in a report earlier in December.

A study commissioned by peace activists reported last month that sanctions were disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations in North Korea.

The report for Korea Peace Now! called for lifting all sanctions that may be violating international law or undermining human rights, and to “urgently” try to mitigate the impact on humanitarian efforts.

MILITARY TENSIONS

Recent weeks have seen some U.S. and North Korean officials discussing possible military actions once again.

Earlier this month, Trump angered North Korean officials by suggesting the United States could use military force “if we have to.”

Those remarks led North Korea’s army chief to warn that North Korea would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level.”

North Korea launched several dozen short-range missiles in 2019, and the commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific said this week that he suspects “some kind of long-range missile” could be North Korea’s “Christmas gift.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Gen. Charles Brown said the U.S. military could “dust off pretty quickly and be ready to use” options it had developed during the height of tensions in 2017.

“If the diplomatic efforts kind of fall apart, we’ve got to be ready…we’re already thinking ahead,” he said.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Pompeo says North Korea must take ‘concrete actions’ before sanctions eased: U.N. envoy

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told United Nations Security Council envoys on Friday that there needs to be “concrete actions” by North Korea before an easing of sanctions on Pyongyang can be discussed, said Dutch U.N. Ambassador Karel van Oosterom.

“The secretary made very clear we need concrete deeds, concrete actions and only then we can start the discussion,” van Oosterom told reporters after Pompeo informally briefed envoys from the 15-member council, Japan and South Korea behind closed doors at the South Korea U.N. mission.

It was not immediately clear if Pompeo elaborated on what “concrete actions.” Van Oosterom chairs the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of Israel border protests

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER (Reuters) – Thousands of Gaza residents turned out on Tuesday for the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, while on the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces prepared to face the expected final day of a Palestinian protest campaign.

Monday’s violence on the border, which took place as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, was the bloodiest for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The death toll rose to 60 overnight after an eight-month-old baby died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled at a protest camp on Monday. More than 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas, Palestinian medics said.

Palestinian leaders have called Monday’s events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet to discuss the situation.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defense to defend its borders and communities. Its main ally the United States has backed that stance, with both saying that Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence.

On Tuesday morning, mourners marched through Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge.

“With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs,” they shouted.

There were fears of further bloodshed as a six-week protest campaign was due to reach its climax.

May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbors in 1948.

The protests, dubbed “The Great March of Return,” began on March 30 and revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands, which now lie inside Israel.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it would deprive the state of its Jewish majority.

Palestinian medical officials say 105 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

More than 2 million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, more than two thirds of them refugees. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the enclave, deepening economic hardship and raising humanitarian concerns.

SHARPSHOOTERS

On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence should demonstrations break out again. Tanks were also deployed.

A senior Israeli commander said that of the 60 Gazans killed on Monday, 14 were carrying out attacks and 14 others were militants.

He also said Palestinians protesters were using hundreds of pipe bombs, grenades and fire-bombs. Militants had opened fire on Israeli troops and tried to set off bombs by the fence.

Many casualties were caused by Palestinians carrying out devices that went off prematurely,” he said.

“We approve every round fired before it is fired. Every target is spotted in advance. We know where the bullet lands and where it is aimed,” said the commander, who spoke on condition that he not be named, in accordance with Israeli regulations.

“However reality on the ground is such that unintended damage is caused,” he said.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Israel had a right to defend its borders according to international law, but lethal force must only be used a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence.

The U.N. rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, said Israel’s use of force may amount to a war crime.

YOUNG VICTIM

In Gaza City, hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag.

“Let her stay with me, It is too early for her to go,” her mother cried, pressing the baby’s body to her chest.

Speaking earlier, her grandmother said the child was at one of the tented protest camps and had inhaled tear gas.

“When we got back home, the baby stopped crying and I thought she was asleep. I took her to the children’s hospital and the doctor told me she was martyred (dead),” Heyam Omar said.

Many shops in East Jerusalem were shut throughout the day following a call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a general strike across the Palestinian Territories. A 70-second siren was sounded in the occupied West Bank in commemoration of the Nakba.

HOLY CITY

Most Gaza protesters stay around tent camps but groups have ventured closer to the border fence, rolling burning tyres and throwing stones. Some have flown kites carrying containers of petrol that spread fires on the Israeli side.

Monday’s protests were fueled by the opening ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem following its relocation from Tel Aviv. The move fulfilled a pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump, who in December recognized the contested city as the Israeli capital.

Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Netanyahu praised Trump’s decisions but Palestinians have said the United States can no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process. Talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.

Trump said on Monday he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His administration says it has nearly completed a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but is undecided on how and when to roll it out.

Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the Gaza violence. Hamas denied instigating it but the White House backed Netanyahu, saying Hamas “intentionally and cynically provoking this response”.

The United States on Monday blocked a Kuwait-drafted U.N. Security Council statement that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians” and called for an independent investigation, U.N. diplomats said.

In the British parliament, junior foreign office minister Alistair Burt said the United States needed to show more understanding about the causes of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas’ role in the violence must be investigated, he added.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. vetoes U.N. call for withdrawal of Trump Jerusalem decision

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., December 18, 2017.

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States was further isolated on Monday over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital when it blocked a United Nations Security Council call for the declaration to be withdrawn.

The remaining 14 council members voted in favor of the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which did not specifically mention the United States or Trump but which expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.”

“What we witnessed here in the Security Council is an insult. It won’t be forgotten,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said after the vote, adding that it was the first veto cast by the United States in more than six years.

“The fact that this veto is being done in defense of American sovereignty and in defense of America’s role in the Middle East peace process is not a source of embarrassment for us; it should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the Security Council,” Haley said.

The U.N. draft resolution affirmed “that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy this month when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world and concern among Washington’s western allies.

“In the wake of the decision of the United States … the situation has become more tense with an increase in incidents, notably rockets fired from Gaza and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces,” U.N. Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council ahead of the vote.

EMERGENCY GENERAL ASSEMBLY SESSION

Trump also plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The draft U.N. resolution had called upon all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Haley and Trump for the veto in a video clip posted on his Facebook page.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Following the U.S. veto, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Arab states, which had agreed earlier this month to seek a Security Council resolution, would meet to evaluate the situation to determine what their next steps might be.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the Palestinians would seek a rare emergency special session of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on Trump’s decision.

Under a 1950 resolution, an emergency special session can be called for the General Assembly to consider a matter “with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures” if the Security Council fails to act.

Only 10 such sessions have been convened, and the last time the General Assembly met in such a session was in 2009 on Israeli actions in occupied Palestinian territories. Any outcome of such a session is non-binding, but carries political weight.

(Additional reporting by Arwa Gaballa in Cairo and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Will Dunham and James Dalgleish)

U.N. team to collect evidence of Islamic State crimes in Iraq

The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss adopting a resolution to help preserve evidence of Islamic State crimes in Iraq, during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017.

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council on Thursday approved the creation of a U.N. investigative team to collect, preserve and store evidence in Iraq of acts by Islamic State that may be war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a British-drafted resolution, after months of negotiations with Iraq, that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a team “to support domestic efforts” to hold the militants accountable.

Use of the evidence collected by the team in other venues, such as international courts, would “be determined in agreement with the Government of Iraq on a case by case basis.”

U.N. experts said in June last year that Islamic State was committing genocide against the Yazidis in Syria and Iraq to destroy the minority religious community through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State fighters in Mosul, have long pushed Iraq to allow U.N. investigators to help.

Activist Amal Clooney (R) attends a United Nations Security Council meeting set to adopt a resolution to help preserve evidence of Islamic State crimes in Iraq, during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan

Activist Amal Clooney (R) attends a United Nations Security Council meeting set to adopt a resolution to help preserve evidence of Islamic State crimes in Iraq, during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

The Security Council met during the annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iraq’s foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari officially requested international help in a letter to the Security Council last month. The council could have established an inquiry without Iraq’s consent, but Britain wanted Iraq’s approval.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate effectively collapsed in July, when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces completed the recapture of Mosul, the militants’ capital in northern Iraq, after a nine-month campaign.

 

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

 

Defying pressure, U.S. lets U.N. denounce Israeli settlements

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States on Friday allowed the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, defying heavy pressure from long-time ally Israel and President-elect Donald Trump for Washington to wield its veto.

A U.S. abstention paved the way for the 15-member council to approve the resolution, with 14 votes in favor, prompting applause in the council chamber. The action by President Barack Obama’s administration follows growing U.S. frustration over the unrelenting construction of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for a future independent state.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has encouraged the expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors, said in a statement.

The U.S. action just weeks before Obama ends eight years as president broke with the long-standing American approach of shielding Israel, which receives more than $3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, from such action. The United States, Russia, France, Britain and China have veto power on the council.

The resolution, put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and Trump, was the first adopted by the council on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

The U.S. abstention was seen as a parting shot by Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu and whose efforts to forge a peace agreement based on a “two-state” solution of creating a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel have proven futile.

Obama also faced pressure from U.S. lawmakers, fellow Democrats as well as Republicans, to veto the measure, and was hit with bipartisan criticism after the vote.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, took the extraordinary step by a U.S. president-elect of personally intervening in a sensitive foreign policy matter before taking office, speaking by telephone with Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before Egypt, another major U.S. aid recipient, dropped the resolution.

Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

“There is one president at a time,” Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters, dismissing Trump’s criticism.

Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resolution. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on Israel to “respect international law.”

But Netanyahu said, “At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory.'”

Israel for decades has pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees.

‘NO LEGAL VALIDITY’

The resolution demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

The White House said that in the absence of any meaningful peace process, Obama made the decision to abstain. The last round of U.S.-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014. The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

“We could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution,” Rhodes said.

American U.N ambassador Samantha Power said the United States did not veto it because the resolution “reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations.”

Successive U.S. administrations of both parties have criticized settlement activity but have done little to slow their growth.

The Obama administration has called settlement expansion an “illegitimate” policy that has undermined chances of a peace deal.

The Security Council last adopted a resolution critical of settlements in 1979, with the United States also abstaining.

The passage of Friday’s resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.

But it was more than merely symbolic. It formally enshrined the international community’s disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

PALESTINIAN SAYS U.N. MOVE ‘BIG BLOW’ TO ISRAEL POLICY

Trump is likely to be a more staunch supporter of Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. He has picked a hardline pro-Israel ambassador and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what would be a major reversal of long-standing American policy.

The U.N. action was “a big blow to Israeli policy, a unanimous international condemnation of settlements and a strong support for the two-state solution,” a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilized language and negotiation, and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, said he had no doubt the incoming Trump administration and Ban’s successor as U.N. chief, former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, “will usher in a new era in terms of the U.N.’s relationship with Israel.”

After the vote, Netanyahu instructed Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal to return to Israel for consultations. He also ordered the cancellation of a planned visit to Israel by Senegal’s foreign minister and the cancellation of all aid programs to Senegal.

(Writing by Will Dunham and Yara Bayoumy; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Lesley Wroughton and Susan Heavey in Washington, Matt Spetalnick in New York and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

U.N vote on Israeli settlement postponed, ‘potentially indefinitely’: source

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during a news conference in Jerusalem

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A United Nations Security Council vote on a draft resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements has been postponed, “potentially indefinitely”, a western diplomatic source said on Thursday.

Earlier, a western diplomat told Reuters that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had instructed Egypt’s U.N. mission to postpone the vote.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.N. Security Council to vote Wednesday on North Korea sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives guidance during his visit to various fields of Samjiyon County in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council is set to vote on Wednesday morning on a U.S.-drafted resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its fifth and largest nuclear test conducted in September, diplomats said on Monday.

Diplomats said the council’s five veto-wielding powers – the United States, China, Britain, Russia and France – had agreed to new measures, seen by Reuters on Friday, that target Pyongyang’s export earnings.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006. It conducted its latest nuclear test on Sept. 9, and the United States and China, a North Korean ally, then spent more than two months negotiating new sanctions. The draft resolution was given to the full 15-member council on Friday.

It intends to close loopholes in sanctions imposed in March, following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January. That resolution banned the 193 U.N. member states from importing North Korean coal, iron and iron ore unless such transactions were for “livelihood purposes” and would not generate revenue for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

The new sanctions to be voted on Wednesday would cap North Korean coal exports at $400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes annually, whichever is lower, starting on Jan. 1. Over the first 10 months of this year China has imported 18.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea, up almost 13 percent from a year ago.

Coal is particularly important to the economic health of North Korea because it is one of its only sources of hard currency and its largest single export item. North Korea would also be banned from exporting copper, nickel, silver and zinc.

The draft resolution would prohibit the export of North Korean helicopters, vessels and statues, banning deals similar to multibillion-dollar contracts that Pyongyang had signed to build large statues in some African countries.

It calls on U.N. states to reduce the number of staff at North Korea’s foreign missions and requires countries to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission amid worries that Pyongyang had used its diplomats and foreign missions to engage in illicit activities.

The draft text says that countries can inspect the personal luggage of individuals entering or leaving North Korea as it could be a way to transport banned items.

The Security Council would blacklist a further 11 individuals, including people who have served as ambassadors to Egypt and Myanmar, and 10 entities, subjecting them to a global travel ban and asset freeze for their role in the North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The sale or transfer of luxury items to North Korea has long been banned by the Security Council and the draft resolution adds rugs or tapestries worth more than $500 and porcelain or bone china tableware valued at more than $100 to the list.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)