China, Russia delay US bid to sanction North Koreans at UN

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China and Russia delayed a US bid to impose UN sanctions on five North Koreans on Thursday, diplomats said, as Pyongyang suggested it may resume tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The move by China and Russia came ahead of a closed-door UN Security Council meeting on North Korea later on Thursday — the second in two weeks — after Pyongyang fired tactical guided missiles on Monday.

“These launches demonstrate the regime’s determination to pursue weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes at all costs, including at the expense of its own people,” seven council members – the United States, Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, Britain – and Japan said in a joint statement at the United Nations.

The test on Monday was North Korea’s fourth in 2022, with two previous launches involving “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and maneuvering after lift-off, and another test using a pair of short-range missiles fired from train cars.

The United States last week imposed unilateral sanctions over the missile launches.

It blacklisted six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian firm, accusing them of procuring goods for the programmes from Russia and China.

It then proposed five of those individuals also be subjected to a UN travel ban and asset freeze.

The request had to be agreed by consensus by the Security Council’s 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.

China and Russia, however, placed a “hold” on the US proposal on Thursday, which puts it in limbo.

China told council colleagues it needed more time to study the sanctions proposal, while Russia said more evidence was needed to back the US request, diplomats said.

An apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subjected to UN sanctions, which the Security Council has strengthened over the years in an effort to target funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

“It is extremely important that Member States take the necessary steps to implement the sanctions in their jurisdictions, or risk providing a blank check for the DPRK regime to advance its weapons programme,” the statement from the group including the United States said, using an acronym for North Korea.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has sought unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles since Biden took office in January 2021.

North Korea continued developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in the first half of 2021 in violation of UN sanctions and despite the country’s worsening economic situation, UN sanctions monitors reported in August.