Russian veto brings end to UN panel monitoring enforcement of North Korea nuclear sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution Thursday in a move that effectively abolishes the monitoring by United Nations experts of U.N. sanctions against North Korea aimed at reining in its nuclear program, though the sanctions themselves remain in place.

Russia’s vote sparked Western accusations that Moscow was acting to shield its weapons purchases from North Korea for use in its war against Ukraine, which violate U.N. sanctions.

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Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have heightened with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatening nuclear conflict and escalating tests of nuclear-capable missiles designed to target South Korea, the United States and Japan. The three countries have responded by strengthening their combined military exercises and updating their deterrence plans.

UN Security Council North Korea

A general view shows an empty Security Council chamber, prior to a Security Council meeting to discuss the situation in the North Korea, at United Nations headquarters, Friday, March. 22, 2024.  (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

The vote in the 15-member council was 13 in favor, Russia against, and China abstaining. The Security Council resolution would have extended the mandate of the panel of experts for a year, but Russia’s veto will halt its operation when its current mandate expires at the end of April.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council before the vote that Western nations are trying to “strangle” North Korea and that sanctions are losing their “relevance” and “detached from reality” in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the country.

He accused the panel of experts of “increasingly being reduced to playing into the hands of Western approaches, reprinting biased information and analyzing newspaper headlines and poor quality photos.” Therefore, he said, it is “essentially conceding its inability to come up with sober assessments of the status of the sanctions regime.”

But U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood called the panel’s work essential and accused Russia of attempting to silence its “independent objective investigations” because it “began reporting in the last year on Russia’s blatant violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

He warned that Russia’s veto will embolden North Korea to continue jeopardizing global security through development “of long-range ballistic missiles and sanctions evasion efforts.”

White House national security spokesman John Kirby condemned Russia’s veto as a “reckless action” that undermines sanctions imposed on North Korea, while warning against the deepening cooperation between North Korea and Russia, particularly as North Korea continues to supply Russia with weapons as it wages its war in Ukraine.

“The international community should resolutely uphold the global nonproliferation regime and support the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal aggression,” Kirby told reporters.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Russia’s veto follows arms deals between Russia and North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions, including “the transfer of ballistic missiles, which Russia has then used in its illegal invasion of Ukraine since the early part of this year.”

“This veto does not demonstrate concern for the North Korean people or the efficacy of sanctions,” she said. “It is about Russia gaining the freedom to evade and breach sanctions in pursuit of weapons to be used against Ukraine.”

“This panel, through its word to expose sanctions non-compliance, was an inconvenience for Russia,” Woodward said.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere added that “North Korea has been providing Russia with military material in support of its aggression against Ukraine, in violation of many resolutions which Russia voted in favor of.”

The Security Council imposed sanctions after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years in a total of 10 resolutions seeking — so far unsuccessfully — to cut funds and curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The last sanctions resolution was adopted by the council in December 2017. China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution in May 2022 that would have imposed new sanctions over a spate of intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

The Security Council established a committee to monitor sanctions and the mandate for its panel of experts to investigate violations had been renewed for 14 years until Thursday.

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In its most recent report circulated last month, the panel of experts said it is investigating 58 suspected North Korean cyberattacks between 2017 and 2023 valued at approximately $3 billion, with the money reportedly being used to help fund its development of weapons of mass destruction.

The experts said North Korea continues to flout sanctions, including by further developing its nuclear weapons, and producing nuclear fissile materials — the weapons’ key ingredients. It also continues to import refined petroleum products in violation of council resolutions.

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