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Council, 4th Edition

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Updated on 31 December 2017

Chapter 5:   CONDUCT OF MEETINGS AND PARTICIPATION

Section 1:   States invited to participate in Council proceedings

 

DPRK participates in meeting on its nuclear weapons programme for first time since 2006

 

On 15 December 2017, for the first time since 2006, a representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) participated in a Security Council meeting convened on its nuclear weapons programme.  This participation, together with that of the representative of the Republic of Korea, was welcomed by the Foreign Minister of Sweden, who hoped that the occasion would be “a step towards dialogue”.  The meeting, chaired by the Japanese Foreign Minister, also was attended by the United States Secretary of State, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, and the United Kingdom Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific.

 

From 2006 until the 15 December meeting, the DPRK participated in only twelve Security Council meetings.  Eight of these were quarterly open debates on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”.  Three of the meetings were on the Council’s resolution 1540 (2004).[1]  Two other meetings attended by a DPRK representative were open debates convened, respectively, by China and Jordan on broad issues relating to the Security Council’s primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

 

The decision by the DPRK to participate in the 15 December 2017 Council meeting followed closely upon a visit by Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, to that country from 5 to 8 December.  The last time a high-level UN official travelled to the DPRK for political talks was in 2010, when Feltman’s predecessor Lynn Pascoe visited the country as a special envoy of then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.[2]

 

Feltman flew to the DPRK in response to an invitation extended to him by Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yong Ho during the General Assembly high-level week in September.  While in Pyongyang, Feltman held discussions with Ri, and also with Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Pak Myong Guk.  Feltman is known to maintain contact with the DPRK delegation in New York and, for example, met recently with its Permanent Representative after the launching of an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile on 29 November.

 

Feltman also visited China during the timeframe of his trip to the DPRK.  In parallel, UN Secretary-General António Guterres travelled to Japan on 13 and 14 December, just prior to the Security Council meeting, in which he participated as the briefer.  This flurry of United Nations diplomatic activity with respect to the Korean peninsula seemed to indicate that the UN leadership saw the need, and the opportunity, for the Organization to play a role in maintaining a communications channel at a time of intensifying DPRK weapons activity, a tightening of sanctions both by the Security Council and individual governments, and heightened rhetoric on all sides.

 

The 15 December 2017 Council meeting provided an opportunity for the UN Secretary-General, the Japanese Foreign Minister, the United States Secretary of State, and the DPRK’s UN representative to engage face-to-face in a discussion of the relevant issues, although no significant common ground emerged from their respective remarks.

 

While the Secretary-General largely focused on the need for dialogue and for re-establishing and strengthening communication channels, so as to lower the risk of miscalculation, the Japanese and American statements emphasized the need to intensify pressure on the DPRK to confront the threat posed by its nuclear weapons programme.  In this context, rather than seeing Feltman’s visit to the DPRK as having been productive in reopening dialogue, Japan’s Foreign Minister stated that the visit “has simply reconfirmed the dire reality of the situation”.  He added that,

 

“it is our responsibility not to repeat past mistakes such as engaging in dialogue for the sake of dialogue. 

That has done nothing but enable North Korea to continue to stall for time for its nuclear and missile development.”

 

He contended that “the only way we can make North Korea change its policy” would be through

close cooperation within the international community “in order to put maximum pressure on North Korea through every available means”.

 

The American Secretary of State similarly spoke of the need to increase pressure on the DPRK, including through national sanctions beyond those adopted by the Security Council.  After some mixed messages in prior weeks as to whether the United States was imposing any preconditions on resuming talks, he reaffirmed that “a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin” and that “North Korea must earn its way back to the table.”  However, he also affirmed that the United States would “keep our channels of communications open.”

 

A number of Council members, including Bolivia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy and Kazakhstan, commented positively on Feltman’s trip, as well as his subsequent briefing to the Council on 12 December.  Among them, the representative of Ethiopia affirmed that

 

“While nothing concrete came out of Mr. Feltman’s visit, we believe that the various discussions he held

may contribute to a better understanding of the thinking in Pyongyang and to devising a strategy of

engagement to bring the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea back to the negotiating table.” 

 

The representative of Kazakhstan stated, “We recommend capitalizing on the recent contact between the Secretariat and the Government of North Korea with the aim of expanding the window of opportunity it represents for peace cooperation and diplomacy.”

 

The DPRK representative began his statement by condemning Japan, “in the strongest possible terms”, for “evilly taking advantage” of its Council Presidency “to convene a ministerial Security Council briefing on the issue of non-proliferation concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” at the instigation of the United States.  He made no reference to dialogue on his country’s nuclear weapons programme.  Instead, he complained noted that since 2014, the DPRK had submitted 11 requests for the Council to meet on the “provocative and aggressive” joint US-Republic of Korea military exercises, but that the Council had responded by “turning its back on every one of our requests”.  In addition, he repeated his Government’s claim that its “nuclear force is devoted solely to its mission as a self-defensive deterrent . . . fully in line with Article 51 of the Charter”.

The representative of China asserted that sanctions “are a means, not an end” and that history showed “that dialogue and negotiations are a fundamental way to ease tensions and advance the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Therefore, “the parties concerned should endeavour to turn the pressure of sanctions into the driving force behind the resumption of dialogue and negotiations.”  In this connection, he restated his Government’s “dual suspension proposal”, whereby the DPRK would suspend its nuclear and missile activities “along with the suspension by the United States and the Republic of Korea of large-scale military exercises.”  He further noted that such a phased approach to settling the issues of the Korean peninsula was the basis of the roadmap proposed jointly by China and the Russian Federation on 4 July.  In his statement, the Russian representative added that his country was “ready to cooperate more closely with all partners with a view to achieving a speedy settlement of the issues on the Korean peninsula through political and diplomatic means, the only possible path, and a mutually respectful dialogue”.   

 

It remains to be seen how long it will be before a DPRK representative participates in another Council meeting on the country’s nuclear weapons programme, and also whether the DPRK will continue to send letters requesting that the Council meet on the joint United States-Republic of Korea military exercises.

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[1] While this resolution affirms that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security, its primary focus is on preventing non-State actors from acquiring, transferring or using such weapons systems.

[2] The most recent visit by any senior UN official occurred in October 2011, when Valerie Amos, then Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to the DPRK.