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UN diplomats: Russia and China block US on North Korea oil

This Feb. 16, 2018, file photo released by Japan's Ministry of Defense shows what it says is the North Korean-flagged tanker Yu Jong 2, bottom, and Min Ning De You 078 lying alongside the tanker in the East China Sea. (Japan's Ministry of Defense via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Russia and China blocked the United States on Thursday from getting the United Nations to publicly accuse North Korea of smuggling in refined petroleum products beyond the annual quota of 500,000 barrels allowed under U.N. sanctions, diplomats said.

The Russians and Chinese, who are key suppliers of petroleum products to North Korea, said they needed more time to examine the U.S. allegations, the diplomats said.

Last week, the U.S. asked the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea to send a letter to U.N. member states and the general public saying North Korea had breached the quota. The U.S. also asked the committee to prevent ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, which it said is the main smuggling method used by North Korea.

The 14 other council members had until midday Thursday to object, and two diplomats said Russia put "a hold" on the U.S. request shortly before the noon deadline. One diplomat said China quickly supported the "hold," which automatically delays action on the U.S. request for six months.

The diplomats agreed to discuss the development only if not quoted by name because they were revealing council communications that are supposed to be private.

U.S. documents sent to the sanctions committee and obtained by The Associated Press cite 89 instances between Jan. 1 and May 30 in which North Korean tankers likely delivered refined products "illicitly procured" via ship-to-ship transfers.

The documents say that even if each tanker delivered only one-third of its listed capacity, the total volume would be above the 500,000-barrel annual quota. The U.S. said that if loaded at around 90 percent, the tankers would have delivered nearly 1.4 million barrels of refined products to North Korea, almost triple the quota.

The U.S. said China and Russia have reported to the sanctions committee that they have continued to sell refined petroleum products to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which is North Korea's official name.

"These sales and any other transfer must immediately stop since the United States believes the DPRK has breached the ... refined petroleum products quota for 2018," the United States said.

The quota on refined petroleum products was one of the tough sanctions imposed by the Security Council last December in response to North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile that Pyongyang said is capable of reaching anywhere on the U.S. mainland.

Experts say years of increasingly tougher U.N. sanctions are having an impact on North Korea.

At the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, Kim agreed to denuclearization. But the Trump administration has said sanctions will remain in place until that process is completed and verified -- and it hasn't even begun.

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