The United States said on Friday, 23 February, that it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear missile program, and President Donald Trump warned of a "phase two" that could be "very, very unfortunate for the world" if the steps did not work.
In addressing the Trump administration's biggest national security challenge, the US Treasury sanctioned one person, 27 companies and 28 ships, according to a statement on the US Treasury Department's website.
The United States also proposed a list of entities to be blacklisted under separate United Nations sanctions, a move "aimed at shutting down North Korea's illicit maritime smuggling activities to obtain oil and sell coal."
‘Phase Two May Very Rough, Very Very Unfortunate’: Trump
North Korea has been developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged taunts that have raised fears of war.
In August, Trump threatened to go beyond sanctions by bringing "fire and fury like the world has never seen," although his administration has repeatedly said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Speaking at a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump made apparent reference to military options his administration has repeatedly said remain on the table.
"If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go phase two. Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully the sanctions will work." - Donald Trump
The sanctions' targets include a Taiwanese passport holder, as well as shipping and energy firms in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The actions block assets held by the firms and individuals in the United States and prohibit US citizens from dealing with them.
The US Treasury said the sanctions were designed to disrupt North Korean shipping and trading companies and vessels and further isolate Pyongyang. They also are aimed at ships located, registered or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and the Comoros.
Last month, three Western European intelligence sources told Reuters that North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year and that it was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of UN sanctions.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the new sanctions would help prevent North Korea from skirting restrictions on trade in coal and other fuel through "evasive maritime activities."
"The President is clearly frustrated and rightly so over the efforts that have failed in the past and also over the uptick in testing and the advances we’ve seen in the North Korean program." - Senior administration official
At another briefing, Mnuchin stood next to enlarged photos he said showed December 2017 images that revealed ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and other products destined for North Korea in an attempt to evade sanctions.
He said he could not rule out the prospect of the United States boarding and inspecting North Korean ships.
Mnuchin said virtually all shipping currently being used by North Korea was now under sanction and the US 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."
Mnuchin said the number of sanctions steps taken by the United States against Pyongyang since 2005 was now 450 with approximately half imposed in the last year.
Tougher sanctions may jeopardise 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 North Korea's Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Ivanka Trump in South Korea
North Korea last year conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. It defends the weapons programs as essential to deter US aggression. It has been more than two months since North Korea's last missile test.
The new US sanctions were announced while Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, is visiting South Korea.
At a dinner with Moon at Seoul’s presidential Blue House, Ivanka Trump said the United States wanted to “reaffirm our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearised.”
Moon said North Korea's participation in the Olympics had “led to lowering of tensions on the peninsula and an improvement in inter-Korean relations" and were thanks to President Trump's “strong support for inter-Korean dialogue.”
(This article has been edited for length.)
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