US slaps "heaviest" sanctions on N. Korea

March Likely to be Critical Time to Broker Breakthrough on US-N. Korea Talks

March Likely to be Critical Time to Broker Breakthrough on US-N. Korea Talks

The Trump administration escalated pressure on North Korea Friday by slapping sanctions on scores of companies and ships accused of illicit trading with the pariah nation.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes questions during a media briefing on the administration's new North Korea sanctions at the White House in Washington on Friday.

Her comments came just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his country's "heaviest ever" sanctions against North Korea.

Mnuchin said the sanctions shine a spotlight on the practices employed by the government of North Korea to falsify identifying information on ships, and hide illicit cargo.

Washington is "fully committed to shutting down those who engage in" illicit trade with North Korea, said Mnuchin, adding that President Trump will leverage the United States' economic strength so that "any company that chooses to help North Korea fund its nuclear and ballistic missile programs will not be allowed to do business with anyone in the United States". "Phase two may be a very rough thing. We will see, but hopefully something positive can happen", Trump said.

"We are releasing new imagery of the deceptive shipping practices used by those who aid and profit from illicit trade with North Korea".

If the sanctions fail to bring about some change regarding the situation with the North, Trump warned of a possible tougher "phase two", without elaborating further. "But the president has said that he is committed to seeing that the North is not marrying a nuclear tip to an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]".

In December, the United Nations approved a US-drafted measure limiting North Korea's access to refined petroleum products and crude oil, which the North Korea said amounted to an act of war.

These shipping and trade companies, vessels and one individual, totaling 56 designations are located, registered or flagged in countries all over the world, including North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and Comoros, he said.

In addition to her presence at the Olympics' closing ceremony Sunday, a high-level North Korean delegation will also attend. According to the OFAC, Kingly Won was involved in a $1 million oil deal a year ago with Independent Petroleum Company, a Russian entity sanctioned by the OFAC for operating in the North Korean energy industry.

Mnuchin said virtually all shipping currently being used by North Korea was now under sanction and the USA government had "issued an advisory alerting the public to the significant sanctions risks to those continuing to enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea".

"We imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before", Trump claimed at the end of a lengthy campaign-style address Friday. Earlier this week, the US government said Pence had been set to meet North Korean officials during his visit to South Korea, but that the North Korean side cancelled at the last minute. Although South Korea is a close US ally, animosity between Washington and Pyongyang still runs high and there's no sign of the adversaries starting negotiations on the nuclear issue.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn't appear to be enjoying the Winter Olympics as much as everyone else.

A senior administration official told reporters that these designations are a critical part of the US' maximum pressure campaign to diplomatically and economically isolate North Korea.

Ivanka Trump (L) and Kim Jung-sook (R), the wife of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, watch the final of the men's snowboard big air event at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre.

In October the United States proposed eight ships for United Nations designation for smuggling banned cargo from North Korea.

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