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What are the impacts of the UN’s North Korean sanctions?

March 2, 2016 at 7:33 PM EDT
The UN has imposed broad sanctions against North Korea in response to its recent nuclear tests. Designed to limit nuclear capabilities, the sanctions would impact many sectors of the insular Asian state’s economy. Judy Woodruff is joined by Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to discuss her efforts to pass the sanctions and what they mean going forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, as we reported earlier, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved new sanctions against North Korea this morning. The sanctions would affect many sectors of North Korea’s economy, and were designed to further limit its nuclear program after another bomb test in January and a missile launch last month.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, was instrumental in getting these sanctions approved. And she joins me now.

Ambassador Power, welcome to the program.

This is, as you know, a notoriously defiant regime. Why will these sanctions move them in any useful way?

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. Ambassador to the UN: Well, they are, as you indicated, the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions ever imposed on North Korea, of course, but also the toughest imposed by the U.N. in more than 20 years.

And, indeed, there are measures in this package of sanctions that have never been done in the whole history of the U.N. So, for starters, we have turned the dial up not just a notch, but many, many, many, many notches.

And the degree of isolation, the degree — the impediments to them actually pursuing the technology, the know-how, the money, so many channels that they have been using to evade prior sanctions regimes have now been cut off with this resolution.

And we’re hopeful, also, Judy, that — you know, China went along with this resolution, with these unprecedented measures. And I think that’s a measure of China’s frustration with the regime. And it’s its own signal, on top of the practical effect of these sanctions. A very important message has been sent, not only by the international community, but by North Korea’s very influential neighbor, and, of course, by the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the U.S. is confident that China is going to be every bit as aggressive as these sanctions spell out in enforcing these?

And I want to ask you about that, because some of the terms here sound like they’re very difficult to implement. Inspecting all the goods that go into and come out of North Korea, how do you do that?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, each country is going to have to come up with its own inspection regime. That’s why you’re right to point to the fact that every member state has a responsibility to do this in as airtight a way as possible.

Be just to signal the contrast between where are now, as of today’s resolution, vs. where we were yesterday, yesterday, in order for a state to have an obligation to inspect cargo going into or out of DPRK, they actually had to have credible information that there was something traveling in that cargo that had a nexus with a ballistic missile program or a nuclear weapons program.

That’s a bit of a needle in a haystack. It’s hard to get intelligence of that granularity and then get it to people who might inspect in time. Now the presumption has totally shifted, where all cargo going into the DPRK is suspected, frankly, of being used to service this program, which they have advanced over the years, and every country is now going to have to put in place mechanisms to ensure that that cargo gets looked at.

And we will have means of assessing whether or not states are in compliance, and we will of course increase the political costs and bring to the sanctions committee and so forth anybody who seems to be deviating from the requirements of the new resolution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what will the measure be of whether these sanctions are working?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, that’s a great question.

I think, for starters, as I mentioned, the resolution is about actually blocking stuff coming into North Korea and blocking their ability to traffic in coal, in iron ore, in gold, and to use those proceeds in order to again acquire technologies, dual-use and just straight-up technologies that they have used to advance the program.

So there is just almost an incapacitation function. And when we see that it’s harder for them to acquire materials, that they can’t advance their program in the same way, that is going to be one sign that the resolution is biting.

The other, of course, and the ultimate objective here is for them to come to the negotiating table, but not just come to want to talk about whatever is on their agenda — and they have a few things they would like to talk about — but to talk about denuclearization, to talk about irreversible, complete, verifiable denuclearization.

And that is something they have not been prepared to talk about in more than 10 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you quickly about one or two other important international issues.

And one has to do with Syria, the recent cessation of hostilities agreement. It’s been reported there’s now been a number of violations, including by the Assad regime using chemical weapons in recent days. Assuming that is true, how much is the United States prepared to tolerate from whether it’s Assad or any of the other parties in order to say that this — before you say, frankly, that this agreement isn’t working?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, much like the resolution we passed today on North Korea, we have, over the course of the last year, done something very concrete on chemical weapons, not only removing and destroying the declared chemical weapons program by the regime, but also creating an accountability mechanism where the OPCW and the U.N. go out and actually investigate allegations of the kind that we saw made by, again, some high-level public comments.

We ourselves are looking into the report of chlorine use. It wouldn’t be the first time, if the regime had used chlorine, but it would be in blatant violation of the cessation of hostilities, and it would be something that we would expect Russia, as the backer of the Syrian regime, to hold the regime accountable for and to make sure that that practice stopped, as we then pursued accountability for any perpetrator of such an attack.

But, again, we can’t confirm it. What we do know is that there have been other forms of violations, attacks in the northwestern part of the country. And, you know, this is not a perfect environment for a cessation of hostilities. We don’t have a big monitoring presence on the ground. We don’t have a political agreement, where a cessation of hostilities accompanies a political agreement.


SAMANTHA POWER: So we never expected it was going be perfect, but I think this U.S./Russia/ISSG — so-called ISSG channel — is where we seek to in a way adjudicate these things and then get those who back the parties to put pressure on the parties to get them to stop.

I do think there has been a reduction in violence that’s noteworthy, because it also helps us get humanitarian assistance in. But we have got to see a more sustained cessation of hostilities and these violations stop, if this thing is to give us the momentum we need for the political track.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very question, final question on the refugees pouring or trying to get into Europe from the Middle East.

We have been telling their story day after day. As you know, the top U.S. general of NATO, Philip — General Philip Breedlove, said the other day that he believes that ISIS is now spreading, in his words, like a cancer among these refugees. Is that your understanding of what’s going on now?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I mean, I think that, certainly, we have seen, you know, ISIS turning up in European cities. We have seen the Paris attacks.

There is a lot of homegrown extremism, people who are first-generation who have been born in European countries who have taken to extremism. I think what’s important is that the systems that we have to process people, most of whom, the vast, vast, vast majority of whom, are just in desperate need of refuge, that the systems we have are sufficient to actually being able — be able to run fingerprint checks, you know, look into backgrounds and so forth.

And that’s the great disadvantage of this flood is, it’s been much harder for Europe to manage than, for instance, our program, where we’re able to actually deliberate over these refugee files for 18 months to make sure we get it right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re going to leave it there.

We very much appreciate your talking with us.


JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.