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China, Russia propose lifting of some U.N. sanctions on North Korea

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – China and Russia on Monday proposed that the U.N. Security Council lift a ban on North Korea exporting statues, seafood and textiles, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters.

The draft also called for a ban to be lifted on North Koreans working abroad and the termination of a 2017 requirement for all North Korean workers to be repatriated by next week. The draft would also exempt inter-Korean rail and road cooperation projects from U.N. sanctions.

It was not immediately clear when or if the draft resolution could be put to a vote in the 15-member Security Council. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China to pass.

The United States, Britain and France have insisted that no U.N. sanctions should be lifted until North Korea gives up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang has been subject to U.N. sanctions because of those programs since 2006.

Concerns were growing internationally that North Korea could resume nuclear or long-range missile testing – suspended since 2017 – because denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but no progress toward a deal has been made and Kim has given Trump until the end of 2019 to show flexibility. North Korea’s U.N. envoy declared this month, however, that denuclearization was off the table.

Russia and China have long said the Security Council should reward Pyongyang after Kim pledged in 2018 to work toward denuclearization.

At a council meeting on North Korea last week – called by the United States – China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said sanctions should be adjusted to “head off a dramatic reversal” of the situation, while Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “It’s impossible to agree on something without offering something in return.”

The draft resolution circulated to the Security Council by Russia and China proposes terminating some of the sanctions “with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population.”

The draft also welcomes “the continuation of the dialogue between the United States and the DPRK at all levels, aimed at establishing new US-DPRK relations, building mutual confidence and joining efforts to build a lasting and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula in a staged and synchronized manner.” DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool