Impact of North Korea sanctions remains in doubt

By Louis Charbonneau ,Reuters

UNITED NATIONS — New U.N. steps against North Korea over its nuclear arms program were designed to bring its sanctions regime more in line with the tough restrictions Iran is facing, but fears remain that the measures will have little impact on Pyongyang’s defiant leaders. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice — who led the drafting of U.N. Security Council resolution 2094 adopted unanimously on Thursday as well as the bilateral negotiations with China that produced it — said, “These sanctions will bite and bite hard.” North Korea responded with an escalation of its bellicose rhetoric, including a threat to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States. It also repeated previous threats to cancel the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and moved to cut off a hotline with the South. But will the sanctions actually bite? And, if they do bite, will they end the cycle of rocket launches and nuclear tests that have resulted in a sustained push by the United States, South Korea and Japan at the U.N. Security Council to condemn and punish Pyongyang? Only Beijing and Pyongyang can answer those questions. Some analysts question whether North Korea’s ally and diplomatic protector China really wants “full implementation” of the U.N. restrictions on trade with North Korea, as its U.N. envoy Li Baodong called for on Thursday. Without China’s active support, the measures could be largely symbolic. George Lopez, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and a former member of a U.N. expert panel that monitors compliance with the North Korean sanctions regime, said the new measures could prove to be more effective than previous rounds of U.N. sanctions have been against Pyongyang. “This diversity of sanctions measures and other directives in the new resolution have the potential to take a considerable bite out of DPRK (North Korea) money movements and to constrain their access to specialized products critical to missile and centrifuge operations,” he said. Similar to steps the U.N. Security Council approved in June 2010 against Iran over its nuclear program, the council’s latest resolution prohibits countries from engaging in any financial transactions with Pyongyang that could in any way be linked to its nuclear and missile programs.

Combined with unilateral U.S. and European Union sanctions, similar measures in the case of Iran, a much bigger and more open economy than North Korea’s with vast oil and gas reserves, have contributed to a severe deterioration of Iranian economic health. Iran’s currency has plummeted and inflation skyrocketed. Some diplomats and analysts say North Korea’s effectively closed economy dulls the impact of sanctions.