The Trump administration has launched new sanctions against 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses in a bid to ratchet up pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program – the largest round of sanctions yet.

Today I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime,” Trump said.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. ©Muhammad Hamed

 

The restrictions are yet another attempt to put pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests as US brushes off the idea of negotiations. North Korea last year conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test despite UN Security Council resolutions. The sanctions are directed at one person, 27 companies, and 28 vessels, according to a statement on the US Treasury Department’s website.

The North Korean shipping industry is the main way in which North Korea gets round sanctions to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, according to the US Treasury. The last round of US restrictions came in January 2018 when the US Treasury Department added 16 individuals, nine entities, and six ships to the North Korea sanctions blacklist, including two companies based in China.

These come on top of sanctions launched by the UN Security Council in 2017 which targeted North Korea’s export of coal, iron, and iron ore.

Both Russia and China have urged caution in response to North Korea. In January, Moscow and Beijing proposed a ‘double freeze’ initiative that envisaged the US and its allies ceasing all major military exercises in the region in exchange for Pyongyang suspending its nuclear and ballistic missile program. The initiative was rejected by Washington.

The plan was again brushed off earlier this year at an international gathering hosted by Canada and the US in Vancouver. While rejecting the ‘double freeze’ roadmap, the summit failed to provide any alternative, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement back then.

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Head of North Korean delegation Jon Jong Su talks with his South Korean counterpart Chun Hae-sung January 17, 2018.

 

At the Winter Olympics this week, Pyongyang officials refused to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence amid threats of new sanctions, as well as US suspicions of a recent rapprochement between the South and North.

Earlier, US Vice President Mike Pence hinted that Washington may be open to talks with North Korea. “We want to make sure North Korea understands us, and if there’s an opportunity for talks that can communicate the fixed policy of the United States of America to them, the president has made it clear he always believes in talking. But talking is not negotiation – talking is understanding one another,” Pence said.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have remained acute since North Korea achieved several milestones in its nuclear program. Leader Kim Jong-un claimed during his New Year’s speech that the country possessed nuclear technologycapable of reaching the US. North Korea noted that regular military drills close to its borders and conducted by Washington and its allies are provoking Pyongyang into boosting its defense capabilities.

Russia has previously warned that further sanctions could escalate the strained relations. Russian envoy to North Korea Alexander Matsegora advised in January that a total ban on oil exports to North Korea could be interpreted as a declaration of war by Pyongyang.

If the supplies of oil and oil product are stopped, it would mean a complete blockade of the DPRK [North Korea],” Matsegora said in an interview with Ria Novosti.

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