Impact of Potential Sanctions on North Korea Unclear

The United States has asked the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea after it said it tested a nuclear weapon. Great Britain and France say they'll go along with these sanctions. The impact on North Korea depends on how the sanctions are written.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

The business news starts with possible sanctions against North Korea.

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The U.S. asked the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea after its reported nuclear test. Great Britain and France say they'll agree to these sanctions.

The impact on North Korea depends on how the sanctions are written and the kinds of trade that are banned.

NPR's Adam Davidson reports.

ADAM DAVIDSON: Put simply, North Korea needs foreign trade in order to survive. The country does not grow enough food and does not have enough energy resources to keep its citizens alive. Therefore, severe sanctions would likely result in the collapse of Kim Jong-il's regime, but only after the death of countless North Koreans.

That is why the U.S. proposal falls short of us such total sanctions. America's ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, says the world should prevent North Korea from buying anything that might help them make weapons of mass destruction. The proposed ban would also outlaw the sale of luxury goods. While the vast majority of North Koreans are desperately poor, there is an elite, estimated to be as large as 200,000 people, who can afford to buy luxury products. These sanctions are clearly designed to hurt that elite, while sparing the country's poor.

Under the sanctions, North Korea would still be allowed to buy food and energy resources. North Korea's main exports are minerals, sea urchins, and seaweed. Sanctions might hurt sales of all three goods.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Can't get your seaweed.

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