US ratchets up sanctions on North Korea

The United States on Thursday sharply ramped up sanctions aimed at curtailing North Korea's nuclear weapons drive, targeting the regime's trading partners with a sweeping ban on business.

President Donald Trump unveiled the new measures as he met with the leaders of allies Japan and South Korea, even as key players China and Russia voiced unease with his more aggressive approach.

Two days after threatening in his first address to the UN General Assembly to "totally destroy North Korea," Trump signed an executive order that would ban firms from operating in the United States if they deal with North Korea.

"Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The United States already punishes foreign firms tied to North Korea's military programs but the latest action sharply expands the range, targeting businesses involved in everything from technology to fishing.

Financial companies may feel the biggest impact. Trump's order also bans any aircraft or ship that has traveled to North Korea from landing in the United States.

The European Union readied its own sanctions. The 28-country bloc agreed to a ban on investments in North Korea and EU exports of oil to the regime, diplomatic sources said in Brussels.

Trump also said China's central bank had ordered national banks to curb their dealings with North Korea, describing the move from Pyongyang's key ally as "very bold" and "unexpected."

North Korea in recent weeks detonated its sixth nuclear bomb and has test-fired intercontinental missiles -- saying it needs to defend itself against hostility from the United States and its allies.

The US administration has refused to offer North Korea incentives to open negotiations and has ramped up threats of military action to force leader Kim Jong-Un -- whom Trump mocked as "Rocket Man" -- to change course.

But meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said "Why not?" when asked whether there could be a dialogue with North Korea.

- China, Russia warn on approach -

China has by far the most influence on North Korea, providing an economic lifeline. But it also fears the consequences if the regime collapses, such as an exodus of refugees or a US-allied reunited Korea on its border.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the General Assembly there was still room for talks -- the polar opposite of remarks a day earlier by Japan's Abe who said that past dialogue had achieved nothing.

"There is still hope for peace and we must not give up. Negotiation is the only way out and deserves every effort," said Wang, who also asked South Korea and Japan not to consider developing their own nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that while his government condemns North Korea, "military hysteria is not just an impasse, it's disaster."

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivered a strikingly open rebuttal to Trump's "America First" theme from an ally.

"The motto 'Our country first' not only leads to more national confrontations and less prosperity. In the end, there will only be losers," Gabriel said in his address, three days before Germany's election.

South Korea's Moon, a longtime dove who was elected president in May, supported the sanctions but took a different tone from Trump.

South Korea was not seeking the collapse of its neighbor and was ready to help if Pyongyang decides "to stand on the right side of history" and halts its provocations, he said.

"The situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue needs to be managed stably so that tensions will not become overly intensified or accidental military clashes will not destroy peace," said Moon, who met later jointly with Trump and Abe.

- Implementation to be key -

Abe was more enthusiastic about Trump's approach, expressing his "heartfelt appreciation."

He hailed Trump for mentioning in his address the plight of Japanese civilians kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime's spies -- long one of Abe's signature issues.

Peter Harrell, a former State Department official, said Trump's executive order was "pretty sweeping in scope" and went well beyond the latest UN sanctions, which curtailed North Korean textile exports and guest workers.

But Harrell, now at the Center for a New American Security think tank, said the key question would be implementation.

"If important Chinese and Russian companies keep trading with North Korea, will Trump in fact impose sanctions on them?" he asked.

"I'm optimistic about tough enforcement, but we won't actually know for a couple of months," he said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho is expected to meet Saturday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will send out feelers on possible diplomatic talks.

Ri earlier dismissed Trump's threats to destroy his country as "a dog's bark" and said they would have zero impact.

Washington's growing use of sanctions on Pyongyang
Washington (AFP) Sept 21, 2017 - US President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday aiming to ramp up the pressure on North Korea by cutting off funding, Washington's latest effort to contain the country's nuclear program.

The executive order allows the US Treasury to impose sanctions on anyone involved in a host of industries in North Korea, including construction, energy, financial services, fishing, mining and manufacturing.

And it authorizes sanctions on "any foreign financial institution that knowingly conducts or facilitates any significant transaction" on behalf of officials or entities linked to the regime in that country.

Treasury also will be able to block transactions that come from or pass through North Korean accounts.

"Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that, going forward, they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Trump's order also imposes a 180-day ban on vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from coming to the United States and targets ship-to-ship transfers with a vessel that has visited the country over that time-frame.

- Sanctions history -

US sanctions on North Korea date to June 26, 2008 when Washington concluded the regime's nuclear effort constituted a threat to national security.

Using measures comparable to those adopted by the United Nations, various presidential administrations have taken steps to freeze assets of people and companies accused of being linked to the nuclear program, prohibit the export and reexport of goods and services to North Korea and shut down key revenue streams to the regime.

At the same time, immigrants to the United States still have been able to send money to their family and friends in North Korea and support non-governmental organizations that provide humanitarian relief.

As North Korea has stepped up its provocations in 2017, the US has cracked down on more parties connected to the campaign.

Once Treasury "designates" a person or firm for their connections to the regime, they are blocked from the US financial system. Any US company or bank doing business with sanctioned entities also could face penalties.

- Chinese, Russians in focus -

On August 22, The US targeted 16 Chinese and Russian individuals and companies, including China's Dandong Rich Earth Trading Co. Ltd., which allegedly facilitated prohibited North Korean exports of vanadium ore. Three Russians were accused trading in fuel on behalf of North Korea through companies based in Singapore.

Two months earlier, on June 29, Washington for the first time blocked a Chinese bank, Bank of Dandong, for allegedly acting as a conduit of North Korean financial activity.

On June 1, the Treasury Department blocked Moscow-based Ardis-Bearings LLC and its director, Igor Aleksandrovich Michurin, for business they do with North Korean firm Korea Tangun Trading Corporation. Others targeted included Russia's Independent Petroleum Company.

On March 31, the Treasury department blocked 11 individuals based in Russia and China that supported North Korea's military activities, sold coal or metals for the regime or conducted financial transfers.

In September 2016, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development and four individuals were targeted for supporting North Korea's program to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

In July 2016, the US for the first time imposed sanctions against North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un for human rights abuses. The US at the same time also sanctioned 10 other individuals and five entities.

In May 2013, the Treasury sanctioned Taiwanese company Trans Multi Mechanics and its leader, Chang Wen-Fu, for links to a North Korean procurement agent.

N. Korea shrugs off Trump threat as 'dog's bark'
Seoul (AFP) Sept 21, 2017
North Korea's foreign minister has brushed aside US President Donald Trump's fiery threat to destroy his nation, comparing it to a "dog's bark" and suggesting Pyongyang would not be deterred by the rhetoric. Trump used his stormy maiden address at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday to warn the North that Washington would "totally destroy" it if the US or its allies was attacked. ... read more

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