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US, China propose tough UN sanctions for NKorea

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EDITH M. LEDERER and RON DePASQUALE | March 5, 2013 07:16 PM EST | AP

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UNITED NATIONS — A U.S.-China draft resolution aimed at reining in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program would impose some of the strongest sanctions ever ordered by the United Nations, in a move certain to infuriate the regime and inflame tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The proposed resolution put forward by the United States and China – North Korea's closest ally – followed Pyongyang's third nuclear test on Feb. 12. It reflected the U.N. Security Council's growing anger over the country's defiance of three previous rounds of sanctions aimed at halting all nuclear and missile tests.

Pyongyang threatened to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War in response to the looming fourth round of sanctions. North Korea insists its nuclear program is a response to American hostility that dates back to the Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war.

"North Korea will be subject to some of the toughest sanctions imposed by the United Nations," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said. "The breadth and scope of these sanctions is exceptional and demonstrates the strength of the international community's commitment to denuclearization and the demand that North Korea comply with its international obligations."

Rice and China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, who negotiated the text behind closed doors over the last three weeks, predicted speedy approval of the resolution.

"The vote will be Thursday – that's the target," Li said. Rice said the council hoped for "unanimous adoption."

The draft resolution would make it significantly harder for North Korea to move around the funds it needs to carry out its illicit programs.

It would also strengthen existing sanctions that bar North Korea from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology and from importing or exporting material for these programs. It would strengthen the inspection of suspect cargo bound to and from the country.

Many analysts believe that the success of this new round of sanctions depends largely on how well China enforces them. Most of the companies and banks that North Korea is believed to work with are based in China.

The Korean People's Army Supreme Command, citing the U.S.-led push for sanctions, threatened Tuesday to cancel the armistice agreement on March 11 because of ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills that began March 1. Without elaborating, the command also warned of "surgical strikes" meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula and of an indigenous, "precision nuclear striking tool."

Such heated military rhetoric and threats have become increasingly common from North Korea as tensions have escalated following last December's rocket launch and Pyongyang's recent nuclear test.

The United States and other nations worry that North Korea's third nuclear test pushes it closer to its goal of gaining nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the U.S. The international community has condemned the regime's nuclear and missile efforts as threats to regional security and a drain on the resources that could go to North Korea's largely destitute people.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said President Barack Obama and the American people want to see North Korean leader Kim Jung Un engage in peace talks.

"Rather than threaten to abrogate and threaten to move in some new direction, the world would be better served ... if he would engage in a legitimate dialogue, legitimate negotiations, in order to resolve not just American concerns, but the concerns of the Japanese and the South Koreans and the Russians and the Chinese, everybody in the region," Kerry said in Doha, Qatar. "That's our hope."

Kerry also stressed that the United States will continue "to do what is necessary to defend our nation and the region together with our allies."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is South Korean, said the North must abide by the Korean armistice.

"I am deeply concerned about that kind of very provocative rhetoric," Ban said. "I strongly urge the Pyongyang authorities to reverse course to build trust that will lead to durable peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

China's Li also called for increased dialogue.

"Military solutions aren't a solution," he told reporters. "We are concerned about the peace viability in the region and ... around the whole world. So that's why we encourage all the parties to sit down and have a serious talk with each other and address their differences through diplomatic means."

Rice said the proposed sanctions break new ground by targeting the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, banking relationships and illicit cash transfers.

All countries would now be required to freeze financial transactions or services that could contribute to North Korea's nuclear or missile programs, according to a Security Council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because the draft has not been circulated publicly.

To get around financial sanctions, North Koreans have been carrying around large suitcases filled with cash to move illicit funds, the diplomat said. The draft resolution clarifies that financial sanctions apply to all cash transfers as well as the cash couriers.

The proposed resolution includes what the diplomat called unprecedented new travel sanctions that would require countries to expel agents working for sanctioned North Korean companies.

The draft also requires states to inspect suspect cargo on their territory and prevent any vessel that refuses an inspection from entering their ports. And a new aviation measure calls on states to deny aircraft permission to take off, land or fly over their territory if illicit cargo is suspected to be aboard, the diplomat said.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington, Foster Klug and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Louise C. Watt in Beijing contributed to this report.