Treasury Deparment to target companies doing business with North Korea
'The regime can no longer count on others to facilitate its trade and banking activities,' Trump said.
President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he had signed a new executive order expanding the U.S. government’s authority to target individuals, companies and financial institutions with ties to North Korea, escalating the U.S. campaign of economic pressure against the repressive regime.
“Foreign banks will face a clear choice: do business with the United States or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea,” Trump said at the start of a meeting in New York with the Japanese prime minister and South Korean president. “The regime can no longer count on others to facilitate its trade and banking activities.”
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The White House has been searching for new ways to crack down on the secretive state's missile program. Last month, Trump threatened "fire and fury" if North Korea did not back off. On Tuesday, he told the United Nations General Assembly that dictator Kim Jong Un was on a "suicide mission."
The North Korean leader responded to Trump's speech on Friday morning in a statement from Pyongyang, calling Trump "deranged" and "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country. He called Trump "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire."
"I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK," read the statement carried by North's official Korean Central News Agency.
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The order announced Thursday, however, does not impose any new sanctions but rather expands the Treasury Department's authority to target people who trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea. The president added that the U.S. will also seek to identify new industries that could be targeted, including textiles, fishing, information technology and manufacturing.
The move appears aimed primarily at businesses and individuals in China, which is North Korea’s neighbor, and could agitate relations with Beijing, though the order likely did not come as a surprise. If only a few Chinese businesses — or just minor ones — are targeted, the government in Beijing may look away. But because so much of China's economy is state-controlled, including some major banks, the possibility remains for new fissures between the U.S. and China.
China itself is deeply worried about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and it has backed recent U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing new sanctions on the regime there. But China also wants to avoid a military confrontation that could lead to the fall of the North Korean government. Such a collapse would leave China with a failed state on its doorstep, as well as a likely flood of North Korean refugees streaming across its border.
Trump on Thursday praised a “bold move” by China’s central bank to direct that nation’s other banks to stop doing business with North Korea. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and has historically been its chief patron on the world stage and protector inside the United Nations Security Council. “It was a somewhat unexpected move and we appreciate it,” the president said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Thursday that Trump’s order “significantly expands” his agency’s authority to cut off funding to the North Korean regime and its weapons program anywhere in the world.
“For too long, North Korea has evaded sanctions and used the international financial system to facilitate funding for its weapons and mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” he said. “No bank in any country should be used to facilitate Kim Jong Un’s destructive behavior.”