US hits North Korea with more sanctions; Pyongyang signals talks possible

Described as the “largest ever” single package of punishments, the Trump administration imposed further sanctions on North Korea Friday.

Addressing attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump announced the fresh embargo, the hub of which includes maritime shipping.

“The Treasury Department will soon be taking new action to further cut off sources of revenue and fuel that the regime uses to fund its nuclear program and sustain its military by targeting 56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses that are assisting North Korea in evading sanctions,” Trump said.

During a press briefing at the White House Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters the sanctions would target “deceptive shipping practices:”

“Our actions target shipping and trade companies, vessels, and individuals across the world who we know are working with North Korea’s behalf.  Specifically, we are sanctioning 27 entities, 28 vessels, and one individual, all involved in sanctions evasions schemes.  Those who trade with North Korea do so at their own peril.”

Mnuchin concluded his remarks by reemphasizing the administration’s commitment to “full, irreversible, and permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The administration’s new actions come at the same moment in which speculation abounds fuel, food and the nation’s hard currency reserves are nearly exhausted.

Two days after the sanctions were revealed, North Korean representatives hinted Pyongyang may be ready to hold formal talks over developing a relationship with the U.S.

According to South Korean Yonhap News Agency, Kim Yong-chol, a senior official with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s Workers’ Party of Korea, told South Korean President Moon Jae-in the North has “ample intentions of holding talks (with Washington).”

Kim, whose offer came as the Olympic Winter Games drew to a close in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is a former North Korean intelligence official and serves as vice-chair of North Korea’s central committee; he is a key player associated with inter-Korean relations.

Yonhap reported Kim told Moon part of improving relations with Seoul requires dialogue with American officials to mutually advance understanding between the three nations.

A skeptical Washington responded cautiously:  At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said talks must include a willingness to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” Sanders said.

Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire for face-to-face talks with North Korean officials over the nuclear standoff on the peninsula.  Until Sunday, Pyongyang has bitterly opposed preconditions ahead of any negotiations.


[The Telegraph] [Reuters] [Yonhap] [Photo courtesy AP via Los Angeles Times]