U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday (local time) additional sanctions on North Korea to practically block the rogue regime’s maritime trade activities. The Treasury Department imposed fresh sanctions on 28 vessels either registered or flagged in several countries, including North Korea, Hong Kong and Panama, and 27 companies in China, Singapore and Taiwan, to enforce a naval blockade on Pyongyang and prevent banned weapons components from being carried to and from North Korea. According to The Wall Street Journal, Washington is also considering another sanction to ban vessels, which have visited ports that allowed sanctioned ships to enter from arriving in ports in the United States. With the latest measure, the United States has established a complete set of sanctions on Pyongyang except an oil blockade to which China holds the key. North Korea now has to face the heaviest and largest sanctions ever since it started developing nuclear weapons.
“If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go phase two,” Trump said. “Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully the sanctions will work,” he sent a stern warning that if North Korea chooses to stick to its nuclear ambitions, the United States may have to use the last resort, a military option.
The Trump administration’s announcement of additional sanctions with the South Korea visit of Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party of North Korea, clearly shows the U.S. administration’s stance that pressure on Pyongyang should be still strengthened irrespective of the ongoing inter-Korean talks. It is to be welcomed if the delegations each led by Ivanka Trump and Kim Yong Chol make contact with each other somehow during their stay in South Korea, which can provide hopes for the resumption of the North Korea- U.S. dialogue. However, Washington’s decision to levy additional sanctions appears to be based on Trump’s judgement that the United States cannot find the momentum of dialogue any longer as North Korea gave up a hard-earned opportunity of dialogue by abruptly canceling a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Kim Yo Jong around the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Games.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un must realize that even if the North Korea- U.S. dialogue does happen, his country is unlikely to obtain anything it wants unless he shows willingness towards denuclearization. ABLV Bank, Latvia’s third-largest bank, has fallen into a liquidity crisis and is on the brink of bankruptcy as soon as the U.S. authorities imposed sanctions on the bank, which was accused of laundering money for North Korea. As such, Kim Jong Un cannot sidestep sanctions by the international community as long as he adheres to the nuclear ambitions.
The Moon Jae-in administration should strongly demand in a meeting with Kim Yong Chol that North Korea announce a forward-looking denuclearization message that can be accepted by the international community. President Moon should make it clear that South Korea is not a weak link that Pyongyang can use to undercut the cooperation of the international community. He should also assure the international community that the dialogue with North Korea is for the regime’s denuclearization and that South Korea will not deviate from the imposition of sanctions on Pyongyang.
Lawmakers from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and the bereaved families of victims in the North’s sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan held a rally near the Unification bridge in Paju on Sunday to block Kim Yong Chol’s trip to the border checkout, so the North Korean delegation had to take a detour through the eastern end of the bridge to reach Seoul. Even if the South Korean government’s acceptance of Kim’s visit was to keep the momentum of the inter-Korean dialogue, if Seoul fails to make any progress in the exact purpose of the dialogue, denuclearization, the North Korean delegation’s latest visit will be remembered as the government’s misjudgment to dance to Pyongyang’s tune, leaving the victims’ families with indelible scars.