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Global Leaders Move to Sanction N. Korea for Nuclear Tests

June 10, 2009 at 6:40 PM EDT
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The world's big powers, including Russia and China, are considering sanctions after North Korea conducted nuclear tests. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice speaks with Margaret Warner.
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JIM LEHRER: Now the world’s big powers, including China and Russia, move to punish North Korea for its nuclear test. Margaret Warner has that story.

MARGARET WARNER: The key veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council have agreed to tough new sanctions, including the possibility of boarding North Korean ships, in response to that country’s recent nuclear and missile tests. A final council vote on the resolution is expected Friday.

The agreement by the permanent members of the council comes three days after North Korea sentenced two American reporters to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the isolated nation.

We’re joined now by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

And, Ambassador Rice, thank you for joining us.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations: Good to be with you, Margaret.

Specific new sanctions, inspections

MARGARET WARNER: So does this resolution have real teeth? For example, on the boarding of ships, what assurance do you have that any member states will actually do that?

SUSAN RICE: Yes, Margaret, if this resolution is adopted by the Security Council, it has real teeth in a number of respects. You asked about inspections, and I'll come right back to that.

But I want to point out that, first and foremost, there will be a total ban on arms exports from North Korea, which has been a source of revenue to fuel its missile and nuclear programs, and a substantially broadened ban on the import of arms to North Korea, into North Korea.

Secondly, a much-expanded and very, very broad and effective financial set of sanctions that will substantially constrain North Korea's ability to move money around the world to support its proliferation and nuclear programs.

With respect to inspections, what this resolution does is create a uniform, very explicit set of expectations for all member states to inspect any suspect North Korean cargo in its territory -- land, air or sea -- to also inspect on the high seas a suspect vessel with the consent of the flag state, and if that...

MARGARET WARNER: But that would be North Korea.

SUSAN RICE: It could be North Korea. It could be another country carrying North Korean contraband. It also requires states to submit to those inspections or, if they don't submit, then the binding piece is that member states have to direct their vessels to an appropriate and convenient port for mandatory inspections. And when contraband is found, the resolution will mandate that it be seized and disposed of.

Where there are instances -- and it's conceivable that there would be -- where a ship tries to evade inspection on the high seas and escape, there's another provision which makes that extremely difficult to sustain, and that is a prohibition on any country providing bunkering services to a suspect ship on the high seas. Bunkering services are fuel and water and all that they need to keep going.

So eventually that ship will come into port and it will face a mandatory inspection. And if, in some fashion, it eludes that process, there is also a mandatory provision for that to be reported immediately to the Security Council. The Security Council has the opportunity to take further action. It also has the opportunity to make it very clear what the vessel is, whose flag it is, and who's in violation of international law.

A 'binding requirement'

MARGARET WARNER: But now the mandatory -- I mean, the sort of key verb in a lot of these provisions is "calls upon" member states to do things, not requiring member states to do things. You had similar language a couple of years ago calling on member states to do some kind of inspections. Why will this be different, in terms of the willingness of member states to actually engage?

SUSAN RICE: Important question. First of all, the resolution that passed in 2006 was very vague and very broad and didn't lay out a specific set of steps that all member states are required or expected to abide by.

In this case, the verb "calls upon" is for a series of steps, calls upon states to inspect on their territory, calls upon them to inspect other suspect cargo on the high seas, calls upon them to submit consensually to such inspection.

But the key provision, Margaret, is, after all of that, if they refuse, they have a binding requirement, a decides provision, which is binding under international law, that the flag state must direct its vessel to a port for mandatory inspection. So this results, ultimately, in a mandatory regime that's binding under international law.

Imprisoned journalists' fate

MARGARET WARNER: Now, North Korea has been very belligerent about even the prospect of such a resolution. How do you think this will complicate efforts to win the release of the two American journalists who were sentenced to hard labor there for entering North Korean territory?

SUSAN RICE: Well, Margaret, we're very concerned, obviously, about those two journalists. This is a humanitarian issue; we're dealing with it that way. We expect that it must be dealt with that way, and it can't be allowed to complicate our efforts to hold North Korea accountable for its nuclear test, for its missile program, all of which are in violation of international law, all of which threaten the region and, indeed, threaten U.S. national security.

We will work these two issues hard in parallel. We're making many efforts to secure the release of those journalists. They need to be released unconditionally. That's a humanitarian matter. But it doesn't get North Korea off the hook of being responsible for its nuclear tests, for its missile program, and for its proliferation activities.

International efforts continue

MARGARET WARNER: So have you made any progress in talks, direct or indirect? I guess they're indirect with North Korea. And, secondly, what intelligence does the U.S. government have about this current state of these two journalists? Have they already been sent to one of these brutal internal labor camps?

SUSAN RICE: Well, Margaret, I'm not at liberty to go into more depth than I have on the case of the two journalists. What we're dealing with here in New York is an international effort to apply increased and meaningful pressure on the North Korean government to halt the actions it is taking that directly threaten our national security, that of Japan, South Korea, and the entire Northeast Asian region.

And if this Security Council resolution is adopted, as we hope and believe it will be, we will have put additional, substantial bite into a sanctions regime that will constrain North Korea's ability to finance its proliferation and nuclear and missile programs, to threaten its neighbors, and to proliferate through air, land or sea, and it will be a significant step in the right direction.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Susan Rice, thank you so much.

SUSAN RICE: Thank you.