This March 2, 2016 United Nations handout photo shows the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopting resolution 2270(2016), imposing additional sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in response to that country’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme at the UN in New York. (Photo: AFP)
The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted the toughest sanctions ever imposed on North Korea in response to its fourth nuclear test and rocket launch.
The 15-member council passed a resolution drafted by the United States and backed by China, Pyongyang's sole ally, that took aim at North Korean exports and set up inspections of all cargo to and from the reclusive country.
US President Barack Obama welcomed the sweeping measures as "a firm, united, and appropriate response" to the January 6 nuclear test and February 7 rocket launch.
"The international community, speaking with one voice, has sent Pyongyang a simple message: North Korea must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people," Obama said in a statement.
Among the unprecedented measures is a new requirement that all countries must inspect cargo destined for and coming from North Korea, in all airports and sea ports.
The resolution provides for a ban or severe restrictions on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, gold, titanium and rare earth minerals from North Korea, and prohibits the supply of aviation fuel including rocket fuel.
North Korea earns about $1 billion per year in coal exports -- a third of all export revenues -- and about $200 million annually from iron ore sales, US Ambassador Samantha Power told the council.
Banking restrictions will be tightened and governments will be required to ban flights of any plane suspected of carrying contraband destined for North Korea.
The resolution tightens an arms embargo by banning sales of small arms and bars vessels suspected of carrying illegal goods for North Korea from ports.
"These are among the toughest measures we have agreed against any country in the world, certainly the toughest ever against the DPRK," said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, referring to North Korea by its official acronym.
Under the measure, UN member states will expel North Korean diplomats engaged in smuggling or other illegal activities.
A total of 16 individuals and 12 entities were added to a UN sanctions blacklist, including North Korea's NADA space agency and its spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.
Luxury watches, snowmobiles, recreational watercraft such as Sea-Doos and sports equipment are banned from sale to North Korea, building on a previous resolution targeting Pyongyang's elites.
Japanese Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa described the resolution as "ground-breaking" but stressed that sanctions were "not the final objective".
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said the resolution should "be a new starting point and a stepping stone" for renewed talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "this firm response by the Security Council should put an end to the cycle of provocation and lead to the resumption of dialogue."
It took seven weeks of tough negotiations for the United States and China to come to agreement on the package of measures, but its impact will depend largely on how Beijing implements the sanctions.
China fears too much pressure could trigger the collapse of the pariah regime, creating chaos on its border.
Talks on ramping up sanctions took place as South Korea and the United States announced plans for the deployment of a new missile defense system on the Korean peninsula.
China's ambassador renewed Beijing's opposition to the THAAD missile system, arguing that it undermines international efforts to re-start talks on a final settlement on the Korean peninsula.
The US Treasury Department announced sanctions against two entities and 10 individuals with ties to North Korea's weapons programs, and the State Department added three entities and two individuals to its sanctions blacklist.
The sanctions resolution did not target oil deliveries to North Korea and allows for exemptions to some export bans if a government can show that the revenue will not be used to develop North Korea's military programs.
China, and to a lesser extent Russia, "will find loopholes, they always have," to avoid fully implementing UN sanctions, said Robert Cohen, an expert on North Korea at the Brookings Institution.
But Beijing "sees the mobilization of alliances, strong military alliances between the United States, South Korea and Japan and it sees that it can't go on the way it has," she added.
The latest resolution ushered in the fifth set of UN sanctions to hit North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.