US mulls over wider sanctions on N. Korea: Official

An undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) looking at a rocket warhead tip.
An undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) looking at a rocket warhead tip. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threat, said a senior United States official.

The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure - especially on Chinese banks and companies that do the most business with North Korea - plus beefed up defences by the US and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official who is familiar with the deliberations.

The policy recommendations being assembled by US President Donald Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster are expected to reach the President's desk within weeks, possibly before a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House declined to comment.

The administration source said US officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, had privately warned China about broader "secondary sanctions" which would target banks and other companies that do business with North Korea - most of which are Chinese.

 

It was not clear how Chinese officials responded to those warnings but Beijing has made clear its strong opposition to such moves.

The US objective would be to tighten the screws in the same way that the widening of sanctions - to encompass foreign companies dealing with Iran - was used to pressure Teheran to open negotiations with the West on its suspected nuclear weapons programme.

For such measures to have any chance of influencing North Korea, which is already under heavy sanctions, Washington must secure full international cooperation - especially from China, which has shown little appetite for putting such a squeeze on its neighbour.

Analysts also have questioned whether such sanctions would be as effective on North Korea as they were on a major oil producer such as Iran, given the isolated nation's limited links to the world financial system.

Underscoring the growing nuclear threat, North Korea's uranium enrichment facility has doubled in size over the past few years, the United Nations' atomic watchdog chief has warned.

"The situation is very bad... It has gone into a new phase," Mr Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Wall Street Journal in a report published on Monday.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'US mulls over wider sanctions on N. Korea: Official'. Print Edition | Subscribe