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U.S. Withholds Support for North Korea Human Rights Debate at UN


Dec. 07, 2019

The U.S. is withholding its support from hosting a human rights debate on North Korea next week during its turn leading the United Nations Security Council, according to several diplomats familiar with the discussions.
U.S. allies, including Germany and the U.K., have sought to hold such a meeting on Dec. 10, but they would need U.S. backing to do so. The U.S. told the allies on Friday it wouldn’t be supporting the effort, meaning the meeting won’t have enough votes to go ahead, according to the diplomats, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks.
The decision, which could still be reversed, comes as U.S.-North Korea ties enter a tenuous phase: Kim Jong Un has warned the U.S. it has until year-end to salvage a breakthrough in stalled talks over North Korean denuclearization. The U.S. has said it’s ready to engage in talks, but Pyongyang isn’t responding.
A U.S. decision to host a human rights debate at the UN could antagonize the North Koreans, prompting them to test weapons or missiles in a show of force that would undermine what the Trump administration considers one of its key foreign policy achievements: a lowering of tensions on the Korean peninsula.
At a news conference earlier on Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft criticized North Korea’s human rights record but stopped short of confirming whether the Security Council will convene a meeting on that topic next week.
Officials with the U.S. mission at the UN didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment about the withholding of American support. Craft has authority to shape the Security Council’s agenda because the U.S. has the panel’s rotating presidency in December.
North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Song, warned the council this week not to hold a human rights meeting, saying it would lead to “undermining rather than helping” to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. The meeting would be considered a “serious provocation” and Pyongyang will “respond strongly,” he added.
“I have read the letter,” Craft said Friday, when asked about the North Korean ambassador’s warning. “We care about human rights. I care about human rights. It is an issue that that our president cares about.”
North Korea’s human rights violations have been widely documented, but the decision to give the issue a prominent spotlight at the UN’s most important body is usually contested. China has argued that the Security Council isn’t the venue in which to discuss human rights, saying they don’t pose a threat to international peace and security.
While such a debate has taken place most years since 2014, it wasn’t held last year as President Donald Trump sought a second summit with Kim.
With Kim’s “deadline” approaching, North Korea may be preparing to conduct engine tests at a long-range rocket launch site. A satellite image from Thursday shows activity at its Sohae Launch Facility, which Kim once said he had dismantled in a concession to Trump.
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