SEOUL — The United States and South Korea vowed Tuesday to push for the “strongest possible” resolution at the UN Security Council, including new sanctions and the removal of existing loopholes, to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test.
The top American and South Korean envoys on North Korea expressed their resolve during a news conference in Seoul, the South’s capital, speaking shortly after two nuclear-capable supersonic bombers from the US Air Force base in Guam streaked over the South in a show of force.
The flight by the B-1B bombers demonstrated the United States’ commitment to providing “extended deterrence,” including the threat of using nuclear weapons, to protect the South, said General Vincent K. Brooks, the top US military commander in the country. It was also intended to help counter calls among nationalist politicians and scholars who contend that the South must arm itself with nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Sung Kim, Washington’s top official dealing with North Korea, and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Hong-kyun, reiterated that the South did not need to build its own nuclear bombs or to reintroduce US tactical atomic bombs that were withdrawn in the early 1990s.
Their intention was “to secure the strongest possible resolution that includes new sanctions as quickly as possible,” Sung Kim said, declining to elaborate on how China, the North’s main ally on the Security Council, would respond.
Kim Hong-kyun said such a resolution would seek to “close the loopholes” in the existing sanctions as well as to place “pressure on North Korea from all directions so that it will no longer be able to operate normally in the international community.”
Washington and Seoul insisted on sanctions as the only option until North Korea agreed to return to the negotiating table with a commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons. But the nuclear test Friday, the most powerful by the North to date, and its recent flurry of missile tests showed that despite years of sanctions, the country was advancing toward its proclaimed goal of fitting its ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
The Security Council in March adopted, with Chinese support, what Washington and Seoul said was the strongest and most effective sanctions resolution ever against North Korea, after its fourth nuclear test in January and its launch of a long-range rocket the next month. Like the previous resolutions, it sought to undermine the North’s ability to raise hard currency to finance its banned weapons activities.
The resolution called for inspecting all cargo going in and out of the country, banning all weapons trade, and expanding the list of individuals facing sanctions.
But critics identified significant loopholes. North Korea was still able to buy oil and sell its coal and iron ore, as long as it was not used to finance the country’s nuclear weapons program — an activity that would be difficult to prove.
Coal and iron ore are North Korea’s biggest exports to China, which remains the country’s last remaining major trade partner and whose vigorous enforcement is crucial to the success of any sanctions. But Beijing prefers keeping a nuclear-armed North Korea afloat as a buffer against the South and the United States, Seoul’s military ally, to risking the collapse of the North’s government with too severe enforcement of sanctions, analysts say.
The recent statistics on trade between China and North Korea, as well as news reports from their border, indicate that the Chinese still allow a booming network of trade and smuggling across their 870-mile frontier.