US President Donald Trump said the US would launch the “largest-ever” package of sanctions against N Korea, intensifying pressure on the reclusive country to giving up its nuclear and missile programs.
“Today I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime,” Trump said in excerpts of a speech he was to deliver on Saturday.
He said the Treasury Department soon will be taking action to further cut off sources of revenue and fuel that N Korea uses to fund its nuclear program and sustain its military.”
He said the effort will target more than 50 ”vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses that are assisting N Korea in evading sanctions.
Tougher sanctions may jeopardize the latest detente between the two Koreas, illustrated by the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics in the South, amid preparations for talks about a possible summit between N Korean leader Kim Jong Un and S Korean President Moon Jae-in.
US Vice-president Mike Pence had hinted at such a sanctions package two weeks ago during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to S Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.
N Korea last year conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.
It defends the weapons programs as essential to deter US aggression. But it has been more than two months since its last missile test.
N Korean leader Kim Jong Un (below) said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with S Korea, which hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, after a high-level delegation, including his sister, returned from the Olympics.
In an extension of that rapprochement, the North agreed on Friday to hold working-level talks on Tuesday for the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics on the North’s side of the border village of Panmunjom.
The new US sanctions will be announced while Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is visiting S Korea. She had dinner with Moon after a closed-door meeting with the president on Friday and will attend the Olympics’ closing ceremony.
Ivanka Trump’s visit coincides with that of a sanctioned N Korean official, Kim Yong Chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. His delegation will attend the closing ceremony and also meet Moon.
The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for US and N Korean officials to meet.
Kim Yong Chol is the vice-chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top N Korean military intelligence agency which S Korea blamed for the sinking of its navy corvette, the Cheonan.
North Korea has denied any involvement.
Seoul said it approved the pending visit by Kim Yong Chol in the pursuit of peace and asked for public understanding in the face of opposition protests.
“Under current difficult circumstances, we have decided to focus on whether peace on the Korean peninsula and improvement in inter-Korean relations can be derived from dialogue with (the visiting N Korean officials), not on their past or who they are,” said Unification Ministry Baik Tae-hyun in a media briefing.
Kim Yong Chol currently heads the United Front Department, the North’s office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.
South Korea’s decision on Thursday to allow in Kim Yong Chol, currently sanctioned by the United States and South Korea, sparked protest from family members of the dead sailors and opposition parties.
Many have been angered at the North’s participation at the Games, which they say has been a reward for bad behaviour with no quid pro quo from Pyongyang. – Reuters