President Trump's team and other western allies have softened a draft resolution calling for new United Nations sanctions against North Korea, after Russia and China balked at an earlier version.
Ambassador Nikki Haley, the top U.S. diplomat at the UN, has been pushing for new sanctions since last week in response to North Korea's hydrogen bomb test. But Russia and China, which have offered economic lifelines and diplomatic cover to the regime, refused to agree to one plan put forward, and specifically objected to an oil embargo that the U.S. and South Korea wanted.
China and Russia both wield vetoes at the UN Security Council, and a British official said Monday that members of the council are looking for ways to keep the group together.
"There is a significant prize in keeping the whole of the Security Council united," Matthew Rycroft, the United Kingdom's ambassador to the UN, told reporters on Monday. "I very much hope that all my Council colleagues will vote in favor of the revised draft."
In addition to the oil embargo, Haley had sought to freeze dictator Kim Jong Un's assets, ban North Korea's textile exports, and impose an aggressive crackdown on North Koreans working abroad. The State Department says those workers are slave laborers who finance the regime's weapons program.
The U.S. and its allies were optimistic.
"There is more of an open discussion in Beijing about the track that they've been on not actually delivering to China, which is absolutely right in our eyes," one western diplomat told the Washington Examiner. "We're not asking China to do this as a favor to us."
China was embarrassed by the most recent nuclear test, which coincided with the beginning of an international economic summit hosted by the Chinese earlier this month. Perhaps to avoid exacerbating that problem as negotiations continued, North Korea declined to carry out another test Saturday, despite expectations that they would commemorate a national holiday with some show of force.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected South Korean President Moon Jae-in's appeal that he endorse the tougher sanctions. "I am concerned cutting off the oil supply to North Korea may cause damage to people in hospitals or other ordinary citizens," Putin said last week. "We do not need to react emotionally and corner North Korea into a dead end."
China and Russia want to the United States to halt military exercises in the region in exchange for North Korea suspending further nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. "[T]he situation on the Korean Peninsula cannot be resolved with sanctions and pressure only," Putin said.
The watered-down draft resolution reportedly replaces the oil embargo with a more gradual reduction in oil exports. It also avoids freezing the dictator's assets and softens the language pertaining to paying North Korean overseas workers. The textile exports ban is still in the draft resolution. "Among other concessions the new text also softens the inspection by force of North Korean ships suspected of carrying cargo prohibited by the UN and drops a proposed assets freeze on the state-owned Air Koryo airline," according to AFP News.
Rycroft maintained that the changes are productive if they bring unanimity to the Security Council.
"[I]t's called negotiation," Rycroft said. "I very much hope that all my Council colleagues will vote in favor of the revised draft. The version on the table is strong, it is robust, it is a very significant set of additional sanctions on imports into North Korea and on exports out of North Korea and other measures as well, so that's why we will be voting in favor of it."