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Trump administration hits North Korea with more sanctions

Trump administration hits North Korea with more sanctions
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefed reporters at the White House on Friday about new sanctions against North Korea, using satellite imagery showing its purported violations. (Associated Press)

Seeking to further isolate North Korea, the Trump administration on Friday announced a broad new raft of economic sanctions against 56 companies, ships and people around the world that allegedly aid the government in Pyongyang in pursuing its nuclear ambitions.

President Trump, who was supposed to personally describe the sanctions in a major speech to conservative activists, instead only briefly mentioned them at the close of his address. He called the measures the "heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before."

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The details were left to the Treasury Department, which said the measures were aimed at disrupting North Korean shipping and trading companies believed to illegally use vessels, sometimes disguised under foreign flags, to transport forbidden goods such as fuel and possible weapons material.

The administration "is aggressively targeting all illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions," Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

If companies or individuals anywhere in the world "choose to help fund North Korea's nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States," he added.

North Korea is already subject to scores of sanctions both from the United States and the United Nations and other world powers, all aimed at halting dictator Kim Jong Un's development of nuclear weapons. The penalties have failed, however, to stop North Korea from making progress toward its stated goal of developing a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory.

The new sanctions target 28 vessels located or registered in countries as far removed as North Korea, China, Tanzania and Panama. Satellite imagery purportedly show North Korean vessels conducting ship-to-ship transfers of oil, coal and refined petroleum products with vessels under foreign flags, to circumvent U.N. sanctions prohibiting such practices.

Shutting down these boats, Mnuchin said, "will significantly hinder the Kim regime's capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters."

Also targeted are 28 shipping and trading companies that work in or with North Korea, Treasury said.

One individual was added to the blacklist, Taiwanese citizen Tsang Yung Yuan, whom Treasury accused of coordinating North Korean coal exports with a Russia-based North Korean broker. "He has a history of other sanctions-evasion activities," Treasury said.

Previously, individuals under sanction have included Chinese bankers and Russian businessmen, all accused of helping North Korea get around the penalties to maintain its economic health.

The administration has said it intends to intensify a campaign of "maximum pressure" on North Korea to isolate the government economically, politically and diplomatically. Washington has urged other countries to sever diplomatic ties and expel North Korean diplomats as well as guest workers, whose wages help fund the Kim government.

Trump also has repeatedly made clear that a military attack is also under consideration, though most experts agree such action could have disastrous consequences throughout the region, notably for neighboring South Korea.

Friday's sanctions came as Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump led the U.S. delegation at the closing of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

Vice President Mike Pence headed the American delegation at the Games' inaugural ceremony, which also was attended by Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong. The State Department later disclosed that she and Pence were scheduled to meet, which would have been the first such high-level contact between American and North Korean officials in decades, but the North Koreans pulled out at the last minute in protest of U.S. criticisms.

For the closing ceremony, the North Korean delegation is led by a hard-line military general, Kim Yong Chol. The State Department said firmly that Ivanka Trump would not meet with him.

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The sanctions mean that any company or person named cannot do business with a U.S. entity, and any assets they have in the United States are frozen.

Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed many critics in saying the new sanctions, while welcome, do not go far enough.

"The so-called 'largest package' of sanctions that the Trump administration can announce against North Korea yet again fails to apply the kind of targeted economic pressure necessary to bring Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table," Markey said.

He called for forcing China to cut its crude oil supplies to North Korea and better enforce existing sanctions. Trump has repeatedly urged China to do both things.

China is North Korea's biggest trade partner and ally, and has only reluctantly joined the international campaign to pressure Pyongyang. Beijing fears that too severely punishing the country would lead to a collapse of the North Korean government and an exodus of refugees into China.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he is open to talks with the Kim government, but he is not convinced the North Koreans are yet serious about negotiations. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has been especially critical of North Korea, praised the sanctions.

"Today's unprecedented actions make it clear that the United States will not let up on North Korea," Haley said. She added, "The world will not accept a nuclear North Korea."

For more on international affairs, follow @TracyKWilkinson on Twitter

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