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U.N. To Vote On Sanctions Package Against North Korea


North Korea and especially under the young Kim Jong-un seems impervious to sanctions, which hasn't stopped the international community from trying to change North Korea's behavior when it comes to missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. Today, the U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a package of sanctions that the U.S. calls the strongest in two decades. NPR's Elise Hu joins us now from Seoul. Good morning.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And what is different about these sanctions from those that North Korea is already under?

HU: That's a good question because this is the fifth sanctions package on North Korea at the U.N. level. The key points in this one, Renee, include mandatory inspections of all cargo going in and out of North Korea, a ban on all jet and rocket fuel to the north and grounding North Korean flights suspected of carrying contraband. It would also deny access to ports for any ships suspected of carrying illicit items. Also there's North Korean entities that have been associated previously with cyberwarfare. Those would be blacklisted, so essentially barred from doing business with the rest of the world. So each time the Security Council passes new sanctions, they are getting incrementally tougher.

MONTAGNE: And what about China, Elise? Because it's often stood up for North Korea. Is it going to vote for this new package?

HU: China is expected to be on board. Even China seems to be sort of running out of patience with North Korea and its young leader. Another Security Council member, Russia, though, has delayed the final vote by a day. It reportedly wants to modify the draft to allow fueling North Korean civilian planes overseas. But with China on board, it is likely to pass.

MONTAGNE: Of course, we always hear that life is pretty grim for ordinary people in North Korea. Is life about to get more grim?

HU: Well, every time we do talk about these sanctions, every time new sanctions on North Korea are announced, they are, quote, "unprecedented and supposed to bite hard." But to your question, these aren't likely to affect regular people that much because of China. China has been stern about saying that any new sanctions shouldn't trigger a humanitarian disaster. So this set of sanctions is designed not to disrupt the general North Korean economy, which is based primarily on China and North Korea and their economic cooperation. The sanctions also don't target one of North Korea's big sources of hard currency, and that's North Koreans who work overseas. So in general, these are intended to weaken Pyongyang's weapon systems and the elite members of the regime.

MONTAGNE: And also, Elise, what about this American student who's being held there in North Korea and who just showed up in a video?

HU: Yeah, we have been watching that closely here. Otto Warmbier is his name. He's a student at the University of Virginia. His home is in Ohio. He was on a weekend trip with a tour group in January and was detained before leaving the country. This week, North Korea paraded him before cameras to read a prepared confession. Warmbier, in this confession, said he tried to steal a North Korean propaganda poster from his hotel. But the confession gets weirder from there. He then said that he stole it at the behest of a church, which promised him a used car in exchange. And he said he did this at the urging of a secret society at UVA. Now if this sounds bizarre, these strange confessions have certainly happened in the past. Past detainees who have gotten out have said they were encouraged by minders to read crafted confessions. The State Department isn't saying much about efforts to get him released, except that it is working with the Swedish Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Pyongyang to get Warmbier released.

MONTAGNE: Elise, thanks very much.

HU: You bet.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Elise Hu speaking to us from Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
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