US President Donald Trump waits to greet Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House in Washington, US September 12, 2017. (Reuters)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the latest UN sanctions on North Korea were only a very small step and nothing compared to what would have to happen to deal with the country’s nuclear programme.
The UN Security Council unanimously voted to boost sanctions on North Korea on Monday, with its profitable textile exports now banned and fuel supplies capped, prompting a traditionally defiant threat of retaliation against the United States.
Monday’s decision, triggered by the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month, was the ninth such resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member Security Council since 2006 over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.
A tougher initial US draft was weakened to win the support of China, Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner, and Russia, both of which hold veto power in the council. Significantly, it stopped short of imposing a full embargo on oil exports to North Korea, most of which come from China.
Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that he was pleased Malaysia no longer did business with North Korea, before adding that he had just discussed the UN vote with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal . . . . I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote.
“But those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” he said without elaborating. Trump has vowed not to allow North Korea to possess a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a conference earlier on Tuesday that if China did not follow through on the new sanctions, “We will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the US and international dollar system.”
Washington so far has mostly held off on new sanctions against Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy.
Trump is likely to make a stop in China in November during his first official visit to Asia and Tillerson was due to hold talks later on Tuesday with China’s most senior diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, at which details of the trip are expected to be discussed, US officials said.
The US president has wavered between criticizing China for not doing enough on North Korea to heaping personal praise on the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
North Korea said its September 3 test was of an advanced hydrogen bomb and was its most powerful by far.
Its ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, rejected the resolution as “illegal and unlawful” and said Washington was “fired up for political, economic, and military confrontation”.
North Korea is “ready to use a form of ultimate means,” Han said. “The forthcoming measures . . . will make the US suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history.”
He did not elaborate, but North Korea frequently vows to destroy the United States.
The latest UN resolution also calls on countries to inspect vessels on the high seas, with the consent of the flag state, if they have reasonable grounds to believe ships are carrying prohibited cargo to North Korea.
It also bans joint ventures with North Korean entities, except for non-profit public utility infrastructure projects, and prohibits countries from bringing in new North Korean workers.
On Tuesday, frustrated US lawmakers called on Tuesday for a “supercharged” response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, saying Washington should act alone if necessary to stiffen sanctions on companies from China and any country doing business with Pyongyang.
Saying “time is running out”, Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said the United States should give Chinese banks and companies “a choice between doing business with North Korea or the United States.”
Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea acknowledged at a House hearing that he had not seen sufficient evidence past sanctions were effective, but defended the administration’s strategy.
He called on anyone aware of efforts to enable North Korean trade to come forward before getting caught. “We are closing in on North Korea’s trade representatives,” he said.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States was “not looking for war” and if North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear programme, it could “reclaim its future.”
“If North Korea continues its dangerous path, we will continue with further pressure,” said Haley, who credited a “strong relationship” between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping for the resolution.
She said the sanctions could eventually starve North Korea of an additional $500 million or more in annual revenue. The United States has said that a previous rounds of sanctions agreed in August were aimed at cutting North Korea’s $3 billion in exports by a third.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the Trump administration was making a mistake by rejecting diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
“The US needs to switch from isolation to communication in order to end an ‘endless loop’ on the Korean peninsula, where “nuclear and missile tests trigger tougher sanctions and tougher sanctions invite further tests,” it said. (Reuters)