TALLINN (Reuters) - European Union ministers on Thursday agreed to impose further sanctions on North Korea, the bloc’s current chair Estonia said, as part of international pressure following Pyongyang’s largest nuclear test to date.
China also agreed at the United Nations on Thursday that more action should be taken against North Korea, though it also pushed for dialogue to help resolve the standoff.
The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini, who held talks with the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers in the Estonian capital Tallinn on Thursday, said the situation could turn “extremely dangerous” as Pyongyang “might act quite irrationally”.
“I would propose to ministers today to strengthen the economic pressure on North Korea, supporting a new U.N. Security Council resolution adopting tougher economic measures, starting new autonomous EU sanctions,” she told reporters.
Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel and France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian backed ratcheting up the sanctions, while the ministers of Belgium and Estonia also stressed the need to simultaneously seek a diplomatic solution.
“With the ongoing missile tests, it’s not impossible to imagine that a technical failure or a human error can result in catastrophic consequences,” Estonia’s Sven Mikser said.
Sanctions have so far done little to stop North Korea boosting its nuclear and missile capacity. Western diplomats say China, which is North Korea’s main trade partner, is largely responsible for patchy enforcement.
Mogherini and NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed in Tallinn that all the existing curbs must be fully implemented.
Beyond the international sanctions agreed by the U.N. Security Council, the EU also has its own broad punitive measures in place, which means options for tightening them further are limited.
The EU’s current sanctions ban almost all trade and investment with the reclusive regime, and require any cargo and personal luggage bound for North Korea to be inspected.
North Korean aircraft are barred from flying through EU skies and the bloc has a ban in place on trading any oil products, something Washington is now calling on the U.N. Security Council to consider.
EU officials and diplomats said new options could include curbing North Korean workers in the bloc — of which Poland is said to host several hundred — and possibly stonewalling Pyongyang’s diplomats in Europe.
EU ministers took no formal decisions on Thursday but the bloc is expected to draw up the details soon.
Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Tallinn, Alissa de Carbonnel and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Catherine Evans