US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chairs a meeting on the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea with members of the UN Security Council at the United Nations, in New York City on September 27, 2018. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP)DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo chairs a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea. © AFP

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo faced an uphill battle to convince UN Security Council members to maintain global pressure on North Korea, after China and Russia both argued for substantial concessions. 

As the US engages in a delicate diplomatic effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programme, Mr Pompeo told a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday that the country has successfully dodged the full impact of UN-imposed sanctions.

“The United States has assessed — and we can say in no uncertain terms — that the cap of 500,000 barrels has been breached this year,” Mr Pompeo told UN Security Council members, in reference to limits placed on North Korea oil imports. “We continue to see illegal imports of additional refined petroleum using ship-to-ship transfers, which are clearly prohibited under the resolution.” 

But his appeal that UN Security Council members “must set the example” and “vigorously” enforce measures they jointly agreed last year against North Korea was met with little support from the country’s key trading partners. 

“Steps by [North Korea] towards gradual disarmament should be followed by easing of sanctions,” said Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, arguing Pyongyang should be rewarded for the steps it has taken this year.

Since the US-led campaign to impose tough sanctions on the country took effect late last year, North Korea has not conducted a nuclear or missile test and has begun unilaterally dismantling some weapons installations in the country. Most recently, the country has invited international inspectors to verify some of its actions. 

Mr Lavrov said it seemed “inappropriate and untimely” to tighten sanctions when Pyongyang was taking such positive steps, accusing some security members of having “stubbornly ruled out” the possibility of offering any positive signals. 

The Trump administration had argued that it is imperative to maintain pressure on North Korea in order to reach a lasting deal.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, also urged the US to agree “a timely end of war declaration”, a reference to Pyongyang’s desire for a formal ending to the 1950-53 Korean war that drew China and others to the defence of North Korea, with South Korea, supported by the US and its allies, on the other side.

The US has spent months stitching together an international pressure campaign to coerce the country to give up its extensive weapons programme, while also seeking to improve relations between the two countries.

US President Donald Trump last year derided North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man” and threatened “fire and fury” against the Asian country if its leader did not back down on nuclear threats towards the US.

But since his unprecedented June summit with Mr Kim in Singapore, Mr Trump has embraced the leader. At this year’s UN general assembly, he described his counterpart in far more friendly terms, saying he had “gotten to know and like” the ruler that many others decry as a violent despot. 

Mr Pompeo, who said he had a “positive” meeting with North Korean foreign minister Ri Hong Yo this week, is due to visit North Korea next month at the invitation of Mr Kim. They plan to set up a second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim to unlock further progress.

Mr Trump said on Wednesday he had agreed to the second summit with Mr Kim “because he’d like it”.

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