5 things to know about Trump’s new North Korea sanctions
President Trump signed an executive order Thursday slapping new travel and economic sanctions on North Korea, as the administration seeks to pressure Kim Jong Un in a showdown over the North Korean leader’s nuclear program.
Trump signed the order at the United Nations, where he expressed frustration that the international coalition had not done enough to stand up to Kim’s provocations. Earlier this week, the president vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued along the nuclear path.
Here are five things to know about the new sanctions:
Sanctions seek to cut off North Korean cash
In an effort to cut off the North Korean leaders’ money, the new sanctions aim to give financial institutions a choice: Do business with the United States or do business with North Korea.
“Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that, going forward, they can choose to do business with the United States, or with North Korea, but not both,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at a briefing on the sanctions.
The executive order does that by giving the Treasury Department the authority to suspend U.S. correspondent account access to any foreign bank that knowingly conducts or facilitates significant transactions tied to trade with North Korea.
Anyone who conducts trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea can also be banned from the U.S. financial system.
The ability of banks to do business with both the United States and North Korea has long been a concern for advocates of harsher sanctions on Pyongyang. But sanctions have been avoided for fear of the effect on the U.S. economy.
With North Korea close to achieving its nuclear dreams, though, some say the cost to national security outweighs the cost to the economy.
On Thursday, they cheered the new sanctions.
“As I’ve said time and again, international banks should have to make a choice between doing business with North Korea or the United States,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement Thursday.
Trading targeted, too
In another move hitting North Korea’s economy, the sanctions also target the country’s trade and shipping by blocking physical access to the United States for a time.
Ships and aircraft that have visited North Korea will be banned from entering the United States for 180 days. Also, any ship that has engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer with one that has visited North Korea will be banned from the United States for the same amount of time.
Mnuchin declined to specify how many ships or aircraft will be affected, but said it’s “very significant.”
“We’ll be working very closely with the Coast Guard and with others on this,” he added.
Treasury also now has the authority to sanction anyone in North Korea’s construction, energy, financial services, fishing, information technology, manufacturing, medical, mining, textiles or transportation industries; anyone who owns, controls or operates any port in North Korea; and anyone who has made at least one significant import or export of North Korean goods, services or technology.
That vastly expands the range of U.S. sanctions, which have until now focused largely on foreign firms tied to North Korea’s military.
Responding to the new sanctions, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said that “trade is an effective weapon.”
Trump insists China is not a target
Trump’s sanctions against those who do business with North Korea raised immediate questions about how the executive order would impact China, North Korea’s primary trading partner.
“I want to be clear the order targets only one country — that country is North Korea,” Trump said.
Mnuchin told reporters he discussed the potential fallout of the executive order with the leader of the Chinese central bank earlier in the day, saying that he looks forward to “working very closely with them.”
And Trump broke some news of his own, announcing at a news conference that he “just heard moments ago” that the Chinese had told their central bank to “immediately stop doing business with North Korea.”
“I want to thank President Xi [Jinping] of China for the very bold move he made today,” Trump said. “It was a somewhat unexpected move, and we appreciate it.”
Still, Trump has expressed frustration with China and Russia for not doing more to isolate North Korea. Both countries sit on the U.N. Security Council, which passed prior sanctions on North Korea that Trump found lacking.
Sasse, who has been critical of Trump, praised the executive order and said it would “remind China that it has a strong interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in Asia.”
While China drew praise from the administration for its actions, Mnuchin said the administration “will call on Russia to do more.”
Key allies are on board
Trump received support for the executive order from two key allies in the region that are also threatened by North Korean nuclear ambitions — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Moon praised the executive order, saying he was “very confident that such moves will contribute to the complete denuclearization” of North Korea.
Abe echoed that sentiment, expressing his “heartfelt support” for the new sanctions.
Those endorsements are key, as Trump entered Thursday’s trilateral meetings with the leaders amid questions about whether they would all be on the same page.
Like Trump, Abe has taken a hardline approach to North Korea. But Moon campaigned on the promise that he would prioritize dialogue with North Korea and has since sought to tamp down talk about the potential for military action.
The unified message was a strong moment for Trump, who accused the U.N. of dragging its feet on North Korea.
“The United Nations has had representatives working on this problem for over 25 years and they have done nothing,” Trump said. “That’s why we are in the problem we are in today, in addition to other countries not doing what they should have done. Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now.”
Trump works around Congress
Trump’s Thursday executive order came as a surprise, with no leaks ahead of time about the signing.
It was further evidence that the president will look to go it alone when he can, particularly on issues he views as most urgent.
“North Korea’s missiles and weapons development is a grave threat to peace and security in our world,” Trump said.
The White House has been enormously frustrated by the GOP-controlled Congress’s inability to implement Trump’s agenda and did not believe it could rely on Republican lawmakers to pass a new sanctions package in a timely manner.
Still, GOP lawmakers, including frequent critics like Sasse, praised the executive order.
Royce said the U.S. is “finally” applying “maximum pressure on Kim,” while Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) called the sanctions “a huge step forward.”