Trump Administration Unveils 'Largest-Ever' Package of US Sanctions on North Korea

By Paul Eckert
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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, flanked by pictures of ships serving North Korea, explains new sanctions on Pyongyang, in the White House Feb. 23, 2018.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, flanked by pictures of ships serving North Korea, explains new sanctions on Pyongyang, in the White House Feb. 23, 2018.

The United States on Friday announced a fresh package of sanctions on North Korea that President Donald Trump called the "largest-ever" set of punishments aimed at pressing the reclusive country to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

In an effort to squeeze funds that North Korea can access in support of its weapons programs, the U.S. Treasury added one person, 27 companies and 28 ships to disrupt shipping and trading with Pyongyang.

"Today I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime," Trump said in a speech to a conservative activist group gathered near Washington.

He later told reporters "if the sanctions don't work, we'll have to go phase two," without elaborating on what that might entail.

"Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully the sanctions will work," said Trump.

Announced by Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the sanctioned ships are registered or flagged in China, Comoros, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Panama, Singapore, Taiwan, and Tanzania -- as well as North Korea.

"As part of the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, the United States is committed to disrupting North Korea’s illicit funding of its weapons programs, regardless of the location or nationality of those facilitating such funding," said a statement by the Treasury Department.

"The North Korean shipping industry is a primary means by which North Korea evades sanctions to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. As such, The United States will continue targeting persons, wherever located, who facilitate North Korea’s illicit shipping practices," it said.

Treasury warned the identified firms and vessels they faced big risks by working with North Korea.

"These practices may create significant sanctions risk for parties involved in the shipping industry, including insurers, flag registries, shipping companies, and financial institutions," said a Treasury statement.

"Parties subject to U.S. and/or United Nations (UN) sanctions should be aware of these practices in order to implement appropriate controls to ensure compliance with their legal requirements," it said.

Entities to be blacklisted

In a related move, Washington also proposed a list of entities to be blacklisted under UN sanctions on North Korea, a move that targets the North's smuggling of oil and coal.

"We are ramping up the pressure on the North Korean regime, and we're going to use every tool at our disposal, including working with our allies and through the U.N., to increase the pressure until North Korea reverses course," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council has steadily boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006, when North Korea conducted its first of its six nuclear tests.

The new trade strictures and tough talk from Washington came two weeks after Vice President Mike Pence raised the suggestion of a sanctions package during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to South Korea to represent the U.S. at opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The new U.S. sanctions were unveiled during a visit to South Korea by Trump's daughter, Ivanka. She is slated to attend the Olympics closing ceremony and had dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Like Pence, Ivanka Trump is not scheduled to meet any North Korean officials during her visit to Seoul and Pyeongchang.

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