US announces massive sanctions and warns the world: Do business with North Korea at your own risk

US TreasuryUS Treasury photos show a ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korea-linked vessel.
  • President Donald Trump’s White House on Friday announced what it called the largest single tranche of sanctions against North Korea ever and revealed a glimpse of the intense level of surveillance and intelligence around Pyongyang’s illegal trade.
  • The US’s new sanctions target one person, 27 entities, and 28 vessels located, registered, or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and the Comoros.
  • Trump has pushed harder sanctions on North Korea than any president before him, and Friday’s wave of sanctions heavily warns against anyone doing business with Pyongyang.

President Donald Trump’s White House on Friday announced what it called the largest single tranche of sanctions against North Korea ever while revealing the intense level of surveillance and intelligence it has gathered on Pyongyang’s illegal trade.

The US’s new sanctions target one person, 27 entities, and 28 vessels located, registered, or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and the Comoros.

Rather than focus only on those already linked to illegal trade with North Korea, trade that often takes place via risky ship-to-ship transfers on the high seas, the US also used Friday’s announcement as an opportunity to warn the public of a “significant sanctions risks to those continuing to enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea.”

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

The Treasury’s press release included pictures of individual ships it said had conducted trade with North Korean vessels. The images were not taken from a satellite and suggest extensive surveillance of North Korean activity.

Part of ‘maximum pressure’

North korea ship to shipUS Treasury

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US was “aggressively targeting” illicit trade and evasion of sanctions by “taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies, and entities across the globe that work on North Korea’s behalf.”

“We’re going to do everything to stop ship-to-ship transfers,” Mnuchin said at a White House press conference, adding that the sanctions targeted “virtually all the ships” North Korea was using.

Mnuchin said the steps “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.” He added that the advisory was intended as a warning to companies that any business they conducted with North Korea would be “at their own peril.”

Mnuchin framed the sanctions push as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang, which is designed to ramp up economic, diplomatic, and military pressure on Kim Jong Un’s government and force the country to denuclearize.

‘More stupid than waiting for the sea water to dry’

So far the Trump administration has targeted North Korea’s economic lifelines like no other before it. In response to increased North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile tests, the White House has had unprecedented success in getting a raft of countries to cut ties with the country.

But North Korea appears as committed as ever to sticking to its guns. Before the sanctions announcement, CNN’s Will Ripley reported that North Korean state media said “nuclear weapons of North Korea are a strong sword of peace that can cope with any nuclear threat and intimidation … The desire for our republic to give up nuclear weapons is more stupid than waiting for the sea water to dry.”

Though it’s impossible to know exactly what goes on in the coffers of the world’s most shadowy country, informed analysis from the American news site NK News indicates that sanctions are indeed beginning to bite. The increased sanctions may also have slowed North Korea’s military.

On Friday, Trump’s daughter Ivanka arrived in South Korea to a presidential welcome. Though it’s unlikely she’ll meet with North Koreans during her trip, South Korea saw Pyongyang’s rhetoric soften around the Olympics, and now talks between the warring sides seem more likely than any time in recent history.

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