The Obama administration said Friday it is prepared to confront ships believed to be carrying contraband materials to North Korea but will not try to forcibly board them, in accordance with new U.N. sanctions.
White House officials said they expect North Korea to act “irresponsibly” to the sanctions, imposed Friday by the U.N. Security Council in response to the communist nation’s recent nuclear tests. The sanctions include expanding an arms embargo and authorizing searches of ships thought to be carrying banned items to North Korea, such as materials that could be used in weapons.
Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said U.S. officials would seek permission to board such ships to inspect them. If they refuse, she said, the United States will try to work with the ship’s home nation “and others to direct that vessel to an appropriate port for the mandatory inspection” outlined in the U.N. sanctions.
If a ship refuses to be diverted, Rice said, U.S. officials “will take all necessary action” to publicize its ownership, what it is thought to be carrying and other information. The goal, she said, it “to shine a spotlight on it” and make it more difficult for others to help the ship complete its journey, such as refueling it.
Rice also said the United States will “ramp up and intensify” its efforts to gather and disseminate information about suspect ships. Other nations, she said, must “uphold their obligations to inspect in their territorial waters.”
Rice said she would not be surprised if North Korea reacted to the sanctions with “further provocation.”
“There’s reason to believe they may respond in an irresponsible fashion to this,” she said. But she said she expects the sanctions to have significant impact on North Korea’s financing of its weapons and missile systems.
Rice said the administration was “very pleased” with the sanctions. She called the new resolution, which was supported by China and Russia, an “unprecedented” position by the Security Council.
The United States and many other nations, including China and Russia, have condemned North Korea for its underground nuclear test on May 25 and a series of ground-to-air missile test firings.
Rice said that Iran — another nation at deep odds with the United States about a disputed nuclear program — should take a message from how the U.N. responded to North Korea’s actions.
“I imagine that they have been following this closely,” Rice said of Iran’s leaders. She said Iran should see that “the response from the international community has been very clear, very firm and very meaningful.”
A senior defense official said late Friday that the military, knowing the sanctions were being discussed, has been exploring ways to carry out such operations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about issues still under discussion and not approved.
Asked if additional U.S. ships would have to be deployed for the new mission, two defense officials said only that the U.S. already has significant presence in the region.