President Donald Trump announced harsh new shipping sanctions against North Korea on Friday -- a clear signal, near the end of an Olympic Games marked by a rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula, that his pressure campaign against Pyongyang will not let up.
"Today, I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime," Trump said to the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Oxon Hill, Md.
The measures target 27 shipping companies and 28 vessels, registered in North Korea and six other countries, including China. The Treasury Department said the shipping firms are part of a sophisticated campaign to help North Korea evade United Nations sanctions restricting imports of refined fuel and exports of coal.
Illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and coal on the high seas have allowed North Korea to avoid the worst of the pressure from sanctions against its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The smuggling has been linked to China and Russia, increasing tensions with the United States.
Still, it was not clear how successfully the United States could enforce the new measures. Cutting off the illegal trade, analysts said, will require interdicting ships at sea. While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stopped short of saying the Navy would forcibly board ships on the high seas, he said the United States would petition China and other countries to allow inspections of suspicious vessels.
"If we can make a deal, it will be a great thing," Trump said at a news conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. "And if we can't, something will have to happen."
"If the sanctions don't work, we'll have to go Phase 2," he said, alluding to the threat of military action. "Phase 2 may be a very rough thing -- may be very, very unfortunate for the world."
The timing of Trump's announcement was notable, coming just hours after South Korean President Moon Jae-in played host at dinner to Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremony of the games Sunday.
Under Moon's liberal government, South Korea has begun engaging with the North. That has caused strain with the Trump administration, which had long ruled out any discussions with the government of Kim Jong Un until it curbs its nuclear and missile tests.
At Moon's prodding, the White House now says it would be open to preliminary talks with North Korea.
At a closed meeting before the banquet, Moon told Ivanka Trump that talks on denuclearization and the inter-Korean dialogue must move forward side by side, Moon's press secretary, Yoon Young-chan, told reporters.
The differences in how the U.S. and South Korea hope to achieve denuclearization were also apparent during the banquet. In her remarks, Ivanka Trump said she was in South Korea to celebrate the Olympics and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a "maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized."
A high-level North Korean delegation will also attend Sunday's Olympic closing ceremony, but the South Korean government said it's unlikely that Ivanka Trump will meet the North Koreans. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended the Olympics' opening ceremony, sat in a VIP box with Kim's younger sister behind him. The two had no apparent contact.
Pence foreshadowed these sanctions during a stop in Japan two weeks ago before he visited the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He warned they would be the toughest yet, using the announcement to blunt a charm offensive by North Korea at the games.
In the past, the United States has gone after ships suspected of transporting missiles and nuclear proliferation material. But stopping vessels suspected of carrying commercial goods, experts said, would be a major step up in the pressure campaign against Pyongyang.
"That goes into the realm of an economic blockade," said Abraham Denmark, a former Pentagon official who is the director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Such a move, he predicted, will meet resistance from China and Russia.
In addition to China, the department sanctioned ships from Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and Comoros. It did not blacklist ships or companies from Russia, even though Russia is suspected of supporting the illicit trade.
Information for this article was contributed by Mark Landler of The New York Times; and by Youkyung Lee of the Associated Press.
A Section on 02/24/2018
Print Headline: U.S. sets new N. Korean sanctions