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N Korea at crossroads

US blocks Chinese proposal to relax North Korea sanctions

Suggested UN joint statement would have rewarded pause in nuclear tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping raise a toast in Beijing   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- The U.S. has rejected a Chinese proposal in the United Nations Security Council that would ease pressure on North Korea as a reward for its freeze on nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The joint statement, circulated to the 15-member council on Thursday, would have praised the June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressed the council's united "willingness to adjust the measures" on the North in light of its compliance with U.N. resolutions.

Russia, another Pyongyang ally and permanent member of the council, also endorsed the statement.

China is the North's largest trading partner and has been accused of weakening its sanctions enforcement since Pyongyang began its diplomatic charm offensive at the beginning of the year.

Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping have already met twice since their first meeting in March -- the once-isolated leader's first time out of the North and his first summit with another head of state.

The U.S. dramatically shifted its tone toward the North in the lead-up to the June 12 summit in Singapore and in the following weeks. Trump has praised Kim repeatedly, calling him "very honorable" and suggested that the phrase "maximum pressure" should no longer be used to describe the U.S. strategy against Pyongyang.

But Washington has stood firm on its promise to maintain sanctions until the North takes concrete steps to denuclearize.

"We're going to get complete denuclearization; only then will there be relief from the sanctions," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a joint news conference with the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan in Seoul on June 14.

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