US seeks to pre-negotiate North Korea sanctions

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The US wants to “pre-negotiate” with China a tough new United Nations sanctions regime against North Korea before Pyongyang conducts another missile or nuclear weapons test, a senior US state department official said on Friday. reports citing Financial Times.

The talks will be a key test of US president Donald Trump’s assertion in April that he and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, would build a “very, very great relationship” between their two countries.

“We’re discussing with them a new UN Security Council resolution that would be pre-negotiated so we wouldn’t have to undergo this very lengthy delay between the time that something happens and the time we can actually draw up a [resolution],” Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary for east Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Beijing.

She added that Washington had spoken with Beijing about targeting “specific companies” that were the “biggest money earners for the [North Korean] regime”. US negotiations are likely to focus on China as the toughest of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which would impose any new sanctions.

In a departure from the practice of previous administrations, in April Mr Trump appeared to link progress on Sino-US security matters, such as resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis, to trade and economic issues. “I explained to [Mr Xi] that a trade deal with the US will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” the president said at the time in a tweet.

Ms Thornton said there was no “clear-cut” linkage between Sino-US security and economic issues but also admitted that the two spheres could not be completely separated from each other.

“If China is not working with us on this major regional security threat of North Korea, where they hold a lot of cards and leverage, then there are going to be problems in other parts of our relationship,” she said. “It’s not a clear-cut linkage but . . . either you’re helping on this major problem that we have and if you’re not then why would we be holding back [punitive measures] on anything else?”

Despite the escalation in the North Korean nuclear crisis over recent months, Chinese officials have maintained their official position that Pyongyang and Washington are both to blame for the tensions, and urged the two sides to hold negotiations. Beijing fears the potential consequences, including a refugee crisis along its border with North Korea, if Kim Jong Un’s regime were to suddenly collapse.

“Chinese tolerance for potential instability [in North Korea] is low,” Ms Thornton said. “They don’t want to cut off the livelihoods of the North Korean people.”

Sino-US relations have been strained over the past week by the Trump administration’s first protest to the Chinese military over an aerial encounter between the two countries’ air forces. That was followed, on Thursday, by the US Navy’s first “freedom of navigation operation” — challenging Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea — since Mr Trump took office.

Ms Thornton said Washington’s South China Sea policy had not changed under Mr Trump’s administration. In another sign of Washington’s willingness to dial up the rhetoric, the assistant secretary spoke on the record on Friday. Embassy officials had previously indicated it would be an off-the-record briefing.

2017.05.26 / 16:48
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