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  • North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, Dec. 29, 2015.

    North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, Dec. 29, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Pyongyang has continued its nuclear program despite years of sanctions and international pressure. 

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to approve the toughest sanctions to date on North Korea over its controversial nuclear program Wednesday. The wide range of sanctions are designed to send a message to the internationally isolated country following Pyongyang’s nuclear test in September.

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The sanctions set to start in January include coal exports being capped by at least 62 percent and an export ban on non-ferrous metals such as silver, copper and zinc. Coal is estimated to make up a third of North Korea’s economy and is one of its only sources of hard currency. In total, the sanctions are expected to cut the country's export earnings by around US$800 million.

The sanctions also target 11 government officials and organizations linked to the country’s nuclear program. Punishments will be imposed for proliferation for efforts and diplomats involved with the program will be restricted in their movement. 

It is the sixth round of sanctions imposed against North Korea since 2006, following the country’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. Despite being the most heavily sanctioned state in the world, leader Kim Jong Un has continued to pursue its nuclear program.

On Sept. 9, North Korea launched its fifth nuclear test on the 68th anniversary of North Korea's founding, a move met by widespread international condemnation. Pyongyang has continually said its nuclear program is a response to the Washington’s “hostile” foreign policy and that sanctions are a double standard considering the fact that a number of Western nations possessing massive nuclear arsenals themselves.

"There will be no greater miscalculation than to think that Obama and his henchmen can use cowardly sanctions racket to try to force us to give up our nuclear armament policy or undermine our nuclear power status," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ahead of the vote, China said that the sanctions were designed to send a “clear” message to Pyongyang’s nuclear program, while still not harm the civilians within North Korea.

South Korea, who are still technically at war with their northern neighbors, welcomed the sanctions and said it would seek additional sanctions against the North along with Japan and the U.S.

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean himself, supported the sanctions and called North Korea’s nuclear activities as “one of the most enduring and pressing security challenges of our time.” He also stressed that North Korea should adhere to its international obligations.

Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho said that sanction were designed to “change the course of DPRK policy” and hopefully bring North Korea toward international dialogue and back to the negotiation table. 

"The strength of this resolution and our ability to change North Korea's threatening, belligerent behavior depends on member states exercising maximum vigilance to enforce each and every one of the provisions in today's resolution," said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. 


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