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UN Security Council Votes Unanimously To Impose Toughest Sanctions Yet


North Korea is facing tough new sanctions over its nuclear program. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose the new sanctions just yesterday. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has called them the strongest sanctions yet against North Korea. But will they make a difference? We called up NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul, South Korea, and asked her how the new sanctions came about.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: All 15 nations in the U.N. Security Council agreed to these sanctions. That includes China and Russia, who are traditionally more aligned with North Korea and have argued that sanctions aren't going to solve the main problem of North Korea's nuclearization. These sanctions are very wide-reaching in areas that North Korea typically exports from its economy. Coal, iron, lead, lead ore, iron ore and seafood are all part of the resolution, so it'll essentially stop North Korea from selling these resources to other nations by barring those other nations from being customers. So if these are properly implemented by the customer countries, such as China, the sanctions could slash North Korea's annual export revenue by about a billion dollars, and that's a third of its annual exports.

SMITH: The U.S. and the U.N. have been imposing sanctions on North Korea for years. Why would it work this time?

HU: The argument goes that they eventually will so pressure North Korea that it will bring North Korea to its knees, and Pyongyang will then want to go to the table and negotiate. But it's looking a lot more like a trade embargo, especially with the inclusion of sea foods. That's really not related (laughter) to weapons or the weapons program. There's a lot of analysts that I've spoken to that say that this really looks like a play to go after North Korea's economy as a whole, in a way, that sanctions previously haven't targeted before.

SMITH: What was North Korea's reaction to the sanctions?

HU: We'll see a lot more in the coming days from North Korea, but the state-run newspaper, The Rodong Sinmun, has already carried an article on Sunday, warning that the U.S. will self-destruct unless it gives up what North Korea calls a hostile policy toward Pyongyang. In typical North Korean media bluster, it said the U.S. mainland would, quote, "sink into an unimaginable sea of fire on the day it dares to touch our country."


HU: (Laughter) This sounds extreme, but it is actually rather par for the course, if not tame, for North Korean state media threats. But we have to underline that North Korea is determined to stay nuclear. And analysts I've spoken with believe that even if it means economic disaster for them, North Koreans will suffer that but still keep building their nuclear program.

SMITH: What does North Korea want from negotiations?

HU: They want U.S. troops off the Korean peninsula. Every year, in March and in August, the U.S. and South Korea conduct large-scale, joint-military exercises on the peninsula, which North Korea sees as a pretext for war. And so one of the items that China has been encouraging the U.S. to bring to the table are these joint-military exercises. And China has really been pushing for this idea of a freeze-for-freeze, essentially that North Korea should freeze its nuclear development in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea freezing its joint-military exercises.

SMITH: NPR's Elise Hu talking to us from Seoul, South Korea. Thanks, Elise.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.