Russia and China on Monday proposed easing some sanctions against nuclear-armed North Korea, on condition the government commits to Security Council resolutions on denuclearisation, in a move the United States described as premature.
The proposal, in a draft resolution which surprised several diplomatic missions, suggested the Security Council lift a ban on North Korea exporting statues, seafood and textiles and was aimed at encouraging dialogue between the North and the US, Russia said.
A State Department official dismissed the proposal, telling Reuters the UN Security Council should not be considering “premature sanctions relief” for North Korea as it is “threatening to conduct an escalated provocation, refusing to meet to discuss denuclearisation”.
The draft also called for a ban to be lifted on North Koreans working abroad and the termination of a 2017 requirement that all such workers had to be repatriated by next week.
It would also exempt inter-Korean rail and road cooperation projects from UN sanctions.
It was not immediately clear when, or if, the draft resolution could be put to a vote in the 15-member Security Council. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China to pass.
“We’re not rushing things,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters, adding that negotiations with council members would begin on Tuesday. He said the sanctions they had proposed lifting were “not directly related to the North Korea nuclear programme, this is a humanitarian issue.”
Nuclear negotiations have been largely stalled since the collapse of a February summit in Hanoi between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the North has been issuing increasingly strident declarations as it pushes the US to make concessions by the end of the year as a condition of resuming talks.
It has also carried out some 13 ballistic missile launches since May.
Trump on Monday said he would be disappointed if something was “in the works” in North Korea and the US was watching activities in the country closely.
The sanctions on industries that Russia and China have proposed lifting earned North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars and were put in place in 2016 and 2017 to try and cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The US, Britain and France have insisted that no UN sanctions should be lifted until North Korea gives up its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Pyongyang has been subject to UN sanctions because of those programmes since 2006.
“On North Korea, as in the past, it’s very important that the council maintains unity,” German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said on Monday.
China and Russia, which had cautiously backed pressure against North Korea after its past nuclear tests, had indicated last week they would reject further sanctions.
At a council meeting on North Korea last week – called by the US – China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said sanctions should be adjusted to “head off a dramatic reversal” of the situation.
Nebenzia said the draft resolution was aimed at encouraging talks between the US and North Korea.
“That’s the whole idea, we don’t do this resolution in spite, we really want to facilitate,” he added.
The draft welcomes “the continuation of the dialogue between the United States and the DPRK at all levels, aimed at establishing new US-DPRK relations, building mutual confidence and joining efforts to build a lasting and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula in a staged and synchronized manner.” DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The draft text also calls for the “prompt resumption of the six-party talks” which involved China, the two Koreas, the US, Russia and Japan. Those talks lasted from 2003-2009.