U.N. Considers Sanctions Against North Korea

The United Nations Security Council meets to consider its response to an announcement from North Korea that it has completed its first nuclear test. The council is likely to consider sanctions including blocking technology transfers to and from North Korea.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The United Nations Security Council meets today to consider its response to an announcement from North Korea. Pyongyang says it has carried out its first nuclear weapons test. This news sparked a lot of international criticism and diplomatic activity. And President Bush spoke this morning with leaders of China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan. He made this statement at the White House.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We reaffirmed our commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. And all of us agree that the proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council.

INSKEEP: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is tracking the story on this holiday. Michele, good morning.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the options for the United States?

KELEMEN: Well, what it looks like now is the Security Council's going to talk about a Chapter Seven resolution, as it's called, which is sort of a toughest resolution that the Security Council can do. And it will probably be some sort of sanctions resolution. On Friday, the Security Council issued this statement warning North Korea not to conduct the nuclear test, warning that there would be unspecified action - meaning sanctions. And today, most of the diplomats heading into the meetings seem pretty certain that it was going to be sanctions.

INSKEEP: How many sanctions can you impose on a country that has cut itself off from so much of the world?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean part of this is really going to be blocking technology transfers to North Korea, and back - this kind of, working aggressively to do that. But North Korea does have a lot of cross-border trade with China. So that's going to be the main thing. But whether or not they'll talk about those sort of sanctions is a different story.

INSKEEP: Now, there's been a lot of tough rhetoric about North Korea, which has not, apparently, deterred them from doing what they want to do.

KELEMEN: That's right, and even Ambassador John Bolton, on Friday, when they passed this statement, said it's going to be a different world the day after the test. Well, here we are - if we believe they've conducted this test, it's still a claim the North Koreans have made - and the international community has to decide what to do. I mean, as we listened to President Bush, this morning, it looked pretty certain that they were going to start focusing on dealing with North Korea as a potential proliferator. He said that the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to state or nonstate entities would be considered a grave threat to the U.S., and we would hold North Korea fully accountable - the consequences of its actions. So there we have it, you know, now we know what we already knew before. It's confirmed - and how do you block it, how do you contain it?

INSKEEP: Well, what leverage does the United States have to hold North Korea accountable, as the president says he wants to do?

KELEMEN: North Korea - the U.S. traditionally doesn't have much leverage, per se, with the North Koreans - or the North Koreans take a lot of its actions because of what the U.S. has done. So when President Bush described North Korea as part of an axis of evil, you saw North Korea responding. When the Treasury Department took steps against a bank, encouraged a bank in Macau to freeze North Korean bank accounts last year - the North Koreans stopped going to six-party talks. So, you do have this back and forth between the two, though the U.S. doesn't have much leverage, per se, in decision-making.

INSKEEP: It's the opposite of influence.

KELEMEN: You might say that.

INSKEEP: Well now there's another issue on the Security Council agenda, today, the recommendation for a new secretary-general to head the U.N. And what timing.

KELEMEN: Well, this is an interesting thing, as John Bolton said, he called it an appropriate juxtaposition. Because, as they were dealing with North Korea, they were approving a South Korean - the South Korean Foreign Minister, Ban Ki Moon, to be the next secretary general. And obviously, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is going to be a huge issue on his plate. He'll go to the General Assembly, but that's pretty much a done deal.

OK, NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

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