Sanc­tions may not be enough to halt North Korea’s nu­clear am­bi­tions

Na­tion shows no in­ter­est in ne­go­ti­at­ing on arse­nal of per­haps 20 bombs.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Pen­ning­ton North Korea con­tin­ued on A4

The strong­est sanc­tions yet against North Korea could still prove no match for the com­mu­nist coun­try’s re­lent­less nu­clear weapons am­bi­tions.

While the United States hails a new pack­age of U.N. penal­ties that could cut a third of North Korea’s ex­ports, the sanc­tions them­selves aren’t the Amer­i­can ob­jec­tive. They’re only a tac­tic for get­ting Kim Jong Un’s to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment to end its mis­sile advances and atomic weapons tests, and there is lit­tle ev­i­dence to sug­gest this new­est round of eco­nomic pres­sure will be more suc­cess­ful than pre­vi­ous ef­forts.

What­ever the eco­nomic pain on Py­ongyang, Kim’s gov­ern­ment has ex­pressed no in­ter­est in ne­go­ti­at­ing away its fast-grow­ing arse- nal of per­haps 20 nu­clear bombs and the bal­lis­tic mis­siles needed to de­liver them. For the young North Korean leader, the weapons are fun­da­men­tal to the survival of his au­thor­i­tar­ian regime, even if they deepen diplo­matic iso­la­tion and bring even more ex­treme poverty for his long-suf­fer­ing peo­ple.

And the sanc­tions may not prove ef­fec­tive. The North has learned through decades of U.S. ef­forts at iso­la­tion how to cir­cum­vent com­mer­cial and fi­nan­cial re­stric­tions, and re­luc­tant pow­ers like China and Rus­sia have of­ten proven half­hearted part­ners when it comes to polic­ing their ally.

“On pa­per, this is a pretty strict con­tain­ment of North Korea eco­nom­i­cally,” said Scott Snyder, an ex­pert on Korea at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “But North Korea has been able to evade sanc­tions in the past and it’s not clear to me things are go­ing to be much dif­fer­ent this time.”

Speak­ing in the Philip­pines af­ter meet­ing Asian for­eign min­is­ters, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son on Mon­day said there is “no day­light” in the view among Wash­ing­ton and its part­ners that North Korea must move to­ward aban­don­ing its nu­clear weapons. But he was quick to stress the im­por­tance of ev­ery­one en­forc­ing the new, tougher sanc­tions.

The U.N. penal­ties aim to cut off roughly $1 bil­lion of North Korea’s es­ti­mated $3 bil­lion in an­nual ex­ports, by ban­ning coun­tries from im­port­ing its coal, iron, lead and

seafood prod­ucts, and stop­ping them from let­ting in more North Korean la­bor­ers, who help Kim’s gov­ern­ment by send­ing cash home. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s U.N. am­bas­sador, Nikki Ha­ley, called it “the sin­gle largest eco­nomic sanc­tions pack­age ever lev­eled against” North Korea.

Even if the sanc­tions hurt North Korea’s econ­omy and weaken its gov­ern­ment, ques­tions re­main over what to do next. Can North Korea be per­suaded to give up its weapons of mass de­struc­tion, re­mov­ing the threat to the United States and its al­lies, South Korea and Ja­pan? If not, what new op­tions does the United States have? Trump is only the lat­est U.S. pres­i­dent to choose sanc­tions in­stead of con­fronting the North mil­i­tar­ily or of­fer­ing diplo­matic talks with­out nu­clear con­ces­sions.

Much rests on the will­ing­ness of China, the North’s ally and main trad­ing part­ner. China op­poses Py­ongyang’s nu­clear weapons, and was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally forth­right in say­ing so this week. But it re­mains cau­tious of trig­ger­ing a North Korean col­lapse, fear­ful of fo­ment­ing chaos along its bor­der or ad­vanc­ing any sce­nario that would lead to a re­uni­fied and U.S.-al­lied Korea on its doorstep.

An­thony Rug­giero, a former Trea­sury Depart­ment of­fi­cial and sanc­tions ex­pert, said China and Rus­sia have failed to im­ple­ment a half-dozen U.N. res­o­lu­tions on North Korea since 2006, when the coun­try be­came the first and only one this cen­tury to con­duct a nu­clear test ex­plo­sion. Four atomic tests since then have honed its ca­pa­bil­ity to minia­tur­ize a nu­clear de­vice. Last month’s tests of long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles has put the continental United States in range for the first time.

While un­cer­tainty re­mains over the North’s abil­ity to wed a war­head with such a mis­sile and strike a U.S. tar­get, it is a prospect that looms larger over Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Rug­giero ar­gued the U.S. should pun­ish Chi­nese banks and com­pa­nies help­ing North Korea evade sanc­tions. Any such ac­tion may face de­lays, as Wash­ing­ton will first have to gauge Bei­jing’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new penal­ties.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has left open the pos­si­bil­ity of re­sum­ing talks with Py­ongyang. In Manila, Tiller­son said he hoped the North would “choose a dif­fer­ent path­way and when the con­di­tions are right, that we can sit and have a di­a­logue.” He urged North Korea to first halt tests for an “ex­tended pe­riod,” how­ever of­ten such con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures have failed.

North Korean shows scant in­ter­est in play­ing by Amer­ica’s rules. For­eign Min­is­ter Ri Yong Ho told Asian for­eign min­is­ters at the same meet­ing Tiller­son at­tended that “un­der no cir­cum­stances” will his coun­try put its nu­clear weapons or bal­lis­tic mis­siles on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Wash­ing­ton has dis­missed a Chi­nese pro­posal de­signed to pique Py­ongyang’s in­ter­est: a sus­pen­sion of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea if the North freezes its weapons devel­op­ment. The stances re­flect an im­passe that no amount of sanc­tions may be able to change.

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