Russia and China on Thursday put a six-month hold on a request from the United States to the UN Security Council to halt all deliveries of refined oil products to North Korea, diplomats said.
The United States, seeking to maintain pressure on the North to dismantle its nuclear program, asked a UN sanctions committee last week to ban further fuel shipments after accusing Pyongyang of using illegal imports to exceed a cap on permissible deliveries.
A UN sanctions resolution adopted last year set ceilings for North Korea of four million barrels of crude oil per year and 500,000 barrels of refined oil products.
A cut-off of oil and fuel would have to be enforced primarily by China, which supplies most of North Korea's energy needs, but also by Russia, which delivers some oil to Pyongyang.
Russia and China told the council that they needed more time to consider the US request and to review Washington's allegations of sanctions-busting by North Korea.
The move came ahead of a meeting on Friday between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Security Council in New York on Washington's drive to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear and missile programs.
Diplomats expect Pompeo to push for strict enforcement of UN sanctions on North Korea during the meeting, which will also be attended by South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japan's UN Ambassador Koro Bessho.
The United States last week sent a report to the sanctions committee that said North Korea had secured at least 759,793 barrels of oil products through ship-to-ship transfers at sea, according to the document, which was seen by AFP.
North Korean tankers reportedly obtains clandestine oil cargo in international waters from ships that often switch off their satellite tracking systems to prevent any monitoring of their activities.
"Russia is closely examining this request and is seeking additional information on every single case of 'illegal' transfer of petroleum to the DPRK," or North Korea, claimed by the US, said the Russian mission in an email to council members seen by AFP.
"We also request the US side to provide additional factual information to facilitate all states to study and make judgment," said the Chinese mission in its response to the council.
No easing of sanctions
The council last year adopted three rafts of sanctions targeting North Korea's economy in response to Pyongyang's sixth nuclear test and a series of ballistic missile launches.
Those sanctions banned North Korea's exports of raw commodities while severely restricting supplies of oil -- vital for the country's military.
After President Donald Trump held an unprecedented summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, China proposed that the council signal a possible easing of sanctions to welcome the diplomatic thaw.
The United States, however, blocked that statement, which would have expressed the council's "willingness to adjust the measures" targeting North Korea, diplomats said.
At the Singapore summit, Kim agreed to work toward denuclearization of the peninsula, but the accord was short on details. More than a month later, no concrete progress has been reported.
After Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang this month for talks to seek progress, North Korea complained that the United States was making "gangster-like" demands for rapid denuclearization.
Pompeo will likely seek to enlist support from the top UN body when he reports on Friday on the administration's achievements so far with North Korea, and on what lies ahead.
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