WASHINGTON--Japan, the United States and South Korea are considering asking the United Nations Security Council to strengthen sanctions against North Korea if it carries out its threat to launch a rocket.
They believe tighter financial sanctions are possible, and that the Security Council could potentially ratchet up penalties to the level currently imposed on Iran.
Existing Security Council sanctions on North Korea include a ban on the supply of materials that could be used in Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and missile programs, and a freeze on the assets of related individuals and organizations.
North Korea says it will launch in early to mid-December a space rocket with the aim of putting a satellite in orbit. The launch is widely seen elsewhere as a test of a long-range ballistic missile.
The Security Council and nations such as the United States maintain punitive sanctions on Iran for flouting international obligations over its nuclear program, but there is a mismatch with those lodged against North Korea.
"U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran are in many ways more extensive than those against North Korea, particularly regarding financial sanctions and the number of blacklisted institutions and individuals," said a report by the Federation of American Scientists in June.
As a result, Japanese, American and South Korean officials have been examining the sanctions currently in place and have begun considering which ones to tighten.
One possibility is to impose new restrictions on financial transactions, including a broader freeze of bank accounts than is in place at present.
Permanent Security Council member China could veto any new punitive measures, but officials in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington believe it would be easier to obtain unity if the new sanctions matched those already imposed on Iran.
Iran has long argued that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes. It has also remained within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. North Korea, on the other hand, has announced it was leaving the NPT.
Not only has it conducted two nuclear tests, but North Korea also launched a similar long-range missile in April that crashed soon after take-off. Following that failed project, the Security Council approved a president's statement declaring that any further North Korean launch would be met with action.
"All three countries also affirmed that if North Korea does, in fact, proceed with a launch, we would seek action by the U.N. Security Council," said Mark C. Toner, deputy spokesman at the U.S. State Department, at a Dec. 5 news conference.
When asked about the effectiveness of any additional sanctions in light of the many already imposed on Pyongyang, Toner replied, "There's always ways to toughen enforcement of sanctions."
Morever, Kim Sung-hwan, the South Korean foreign minister, indicated that discussions were under way with China as well as with the United States.
"We are holding discussions on sanctions that will impose substantive pressure on North Korea," Kim told a National Assembly committee on Dec. 6.
It is not only the U.N. Security Council that might impose new penalties on Pyongyang. The United States could tighten its own unilateral sanctions, too.
Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said the United States might tighten its embargo to an Iran-like level, which currently includes a blockade against the central bank of Iran.
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