US calls for vote soon on new UN sanctions on North Korea

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Wednesday called for a vote “in the coming days” on a U.N. resolution that would impose tougher sanctions on North Korea for its recent launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations has been working on a draft Security Council resolution for several months and a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday it would be put in a final form that can be voted on.

But the measure faces opposition from North Korea’s neighbors China and Russia, which both said at a council meeting on May 11 that they wanted to see new talks and not more punishment for the North.

The announcement of an upcoming vote and the U.S. release of the 14-page draft resolution came hours after South Korea reported that North Korea test-launched a suspected ICBM and two shorter-range missiles.

U.S. President Joe Biden ended an Asia trip Tuesday that including stops in South Korea and Japan where he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend both allies in the face of the North’s nuclear threat.

Wednesday’s launches were North Korea’s 17th round of missile firings this year. Experts have said North Korea wants to move ahead with its push to expand its arsenal and apply more pressure on its rivals to wrest sanctions relief and other concessions.

The senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, would not say if the resolution would be put to a vote this week. Whether China and Russia would use their veto power to block the measure remains to be seen.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, expressed regret on May 11 that the United States “remains enamored superstitiously of the magic power of sanctions,” which he said are not an appropriate way to address the situation.

Asked by reporters later how China would vote on the U.S. draft resolution, Zhang replied: “We have proposed other options, and we have told them that we will not support the current U.S. draft resolution.”

He said that the direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea in 2018 produced positive results and a de-escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula, but that the United States created the current impasse by not reciprocating to what he said were Pyongyang’s positive initiatives.

Zhang said Beijing wants to avoid a new nuclear test explosion, “so that’s why we do not want to have additional sanctions that might force one of the parties to take more proactive” measures.

Last fall, China and Russia circulated a draft resolution urging the Security Council to end a host of sanctions on North Korea, and Zhang expressed hope Wednesday that council members would give “serious consideration” to it.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, echoed Zhang’s opposition to new sanctions, saying: “Unfortunately, so far the council has only tightened restrictions ignoring the positive signals from North Korea.”