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Haley claims Russia ‘cheated’ sanctions

U.S. envoy says it tampered with UN report on violations
Sept 19,2018
The United States accused Russia of “cheating” UN sanctions on North Korea during a United Nations Security Council meeting on the eve of the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley claimed Russia meddled with a report by a UN panel of experts on sanctions on North Korea, widening the schism between the two veto-wielding countries of the 15-member Security Council.

“Russia has been cheating,” Haley claimed during the meeting in New York on Monday. She said that the United States has collected “evidence of consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations.”

The top Russian envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, rejected Haley’s accusations and called diplomacy a “two-way street,” adding that “it is impossible to come to an agreement if you offer nothing in return.”

The showdown between the United States and Russia comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un kicked off their three-day summit in Pyongyang Tuesday, where the leaders will attempt to solve the current impasse in the North-U.S. denuclearization talks.

In an attempt to push the North to get serious about negotiations, Washington has been upping pressure on Russia and China to comply with sanctions. It has been three months since the June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore.

“Russian corruption is like a virus,” Haley said. “If we’re not careful, the sickness will spread to the council.” She accused Moscow of undermining the current sanctions regime, which is aimed at cutting off funding for the North’s nuclear and ballistic missiles program.

According to Haley, Russian interference led to changes in a mid-term report by a panel of experts for the UNSC’s 1718 Committee, also known as the sanctions committee. The original report accused Russian entities of violating sanctions, and Haley demanded that the panel submit its original report.

Russia has been a proponent of a gradual, step-by-step easing of sanctions on North Korea alongside the ongoing denuclearization negotiations. The United States, however, has been adamant that now is not the time to reduce pressure on the North. Washington has been tightening its maximum pressure campaign on Pyongyang. It recently blacklisted Russian entities and ramped up its military efforts to monitor illegal ship-to-ship transfers in a “name and shame” crackdown on sanctions violations.

Haley said that Russia is left with a choice of either supporting or violating UN sanctions, emphasizing that now is not the time to ease sanctions. She specifically cited a Russian vessel, the Patriot, which has been filmed transferring refined petroleum to a North Korea-controlled tanker, as an example of sanctions violation.

But Haley also noted that Trump-Kim summit “set us on the path toward complete denuclearization” but that “we are not there yet,” urging the council not to “ease the powerful worldwide sanctions.”

Nebenzya said that North Korea has been asked to accept “empty promises” in return for its efforts on denuclearization. He pointed to Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as an example of U.S. backpedaling on nuclear agreements. He added that denuclearization must begin with “confidence building measures.”

Nebenzya went on to say that there is still a “prospect” of the two Koreas signing a peace treaty to formally “end the state of war on the Korean Peninsula.”

The June 12 joint statement from Trump and Kim guaranteed the North’s security in turn for complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang has pushed for an early declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice agreement. Washington, however, hasn’t budged on its demand for the North to fully reveal its nuclear stockpile and facilities, which is needed for inspections to take place.

Nebenzya claimed that the United States is trying to “impose on the international community their own vision of the situation,” and said that the panel of experts had become “increasingly politicized,” defending the revisions to the report. He went on to criticize the presence of the United Nations Command in Korea, which he called a “U.S.-monitored military entity in the Korean demilitarized zone.”

Nebenzya accused the UN Command of blocking steps on the inter-Korean initiative to restart the joint railway project. He added that the Khasan-Rajin trilateral trade project, which involves the Koreas and Russia, doesn’t fall under UN sanctions, and compared the UN Command stationed on the peninsula to the “Berlin Wall in the 21st century,” according to Russia’s Tass news agency.

Some in Seoul and Washington have been concerned that a nuclear deal between North Korea and the United States could lead to a drastic reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong-un assured Moon’s special envoy earlier this month that troop withdrawals are unrelated to the denuclearization issue, however.

Ma Zhaoxu, China’s ambassador to the UN and the other traditional defender of the North on the Security Council, warned against military confrontation and expressed hope that the upcoming Moon-Kim summit in Pyongyang will “will yield positive results.”

Ma emphasized the need to uphold the goal of denuclearization, address legitimate security concerns and continued dialogue. China, he said, will handle Security Council resolution violations, if any are found, and will also submit its records on oil exports to the North. But he also pointed out that the United Nations Command is a “product of the Cold War.”

South Korean Ambassador to the UN Cho Tae-yul acknowledged during the meeting that the “road ahead will be bumpy” and called for the international community to pursue the shared goal of complete denuclearization of the North with “patience, persistence and, above all, a united stance and solidarity.”

Seoul expects a “significant breakthrough” from the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, Cho said, but added that sanctions must be implemented in a “mutually complementary manner.”

There are signs that the North is “still maintaining and developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program,” said Rosemary di Carlo, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs, at the Security Council meeting. She said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is still unable to gain access to the country and inspect nuclear-related facilities. An IAEA report on Aug. 20 said that there is continued operation of the plutonium production reactor, radiochemical laboratory and alleged uranium enrichment facility at the North’s Yongbyon nuclear site.

Noting the progress that has been made toward building trust and reducing military tensions, including the halt to nuclear and missile tests by the North, she said that “a foundation has been established to make tangible progress on the core issues” through the inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits.

Since the cancellation of his third trip to Pyongyang last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been leading a crackdown on sanctions evasions to up pressure on the North to denuclearize amid the stalemate in talks. Pompeo said on Twitter Monday that the United States called the UNSC meeting to discuss Russia’s “active attempts to undermine compliance” with sanctions on North Korea.

“Global sanctions are an essential part of efforts to achieve denuclearization. We are as committed as ever to enforcing them,” his post read.

Hours ahead of departing for Pyongyang, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Pompeo held a phone call, their second that day, pledging again to cooperate on denuclearization. Kang is a part of Moon’s delegation to the North from Tuesday to Thursday, marking the first time a South Korean foreign minister has made an official visit to Pyongyang.

The second phone call followed a 40-minute phone conversation earlier that day in which Kang gave an item-by-item briefing to Pompeo. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that Pompeo said he shared information with the State Department from the information Kang briefed him on earlier in the day. The ministry said they exchanged views on the inter-Korean summit but did not elaborate further.

Just three hours away from Moon’s flight to Pyongyang, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement on Kang and Pompeo’s second phone call and said they “affirmed the strength of the U.S.-ROK alliance and the importance to maintain pressure until we achieve the shared goal of final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK.”

The DPRK is the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The ROK stands for the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea. Ahead of the third inter-Korean summit, Geng Shuang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing Monday that the Chinese government hopes that it “can achieve positive outcomes and play a positive role in strengthening the coordination and interaction between the ROK and the DPRK, sustaining and consolidating the improving situation on the Korean Peninsula and continuously promoting the political settlement of the Peninsula issue.”

It added that China will “fully support” the two Koreas “in improving their relations and contribute to achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the lasting peace and stability of Northeast Asia at an early date.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]