President Donald Trump has rolled out
fresh sanctions against North
Korea-linked shipping assets, hailing the package as the "heaviest
sanctions ever" levied on the Pyongyang regime.
Trump used a speech to conservatives just outside Washington to step up his
campaign of "maximum pressure" designed to force North Korea to roll
back its weapons programs.
"We imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country
before," Trump claimed at the end of a lengthy campaign-style address
In light of past US embargoes, that is likely an overstatement, but Treasury
Secretary Steve Mnuchin confirmed the sanctions covered "virtually all the
ships" North Korea is "using at this moment in time."
Speaking to reporters in Pyeongchang Saturday
on a visit to the Winter Olympics, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said:
"Hopefully we'll see a change on the part of the North Koreans to start to
denuclearise the peninsula, that's what our focus is."
She added: "I can tell you the president won't make the mistakes the
previous administration has and be soft or weak."
Trump's administration is locked in a nuclear standoff with Pyongyang, which is
trying to develop missiles that could deliver an atomic weapon to major US
The latest sanctions are designed to put the squeeze on North Korea's already
precarious economy and fuel supply.
In his speech Friday Trump had been expected to provide details of measures
that target "56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses,"
but skipped that part of his prepared remarks.
"Frankly, hopefully something positive can happen," he said instead.
During a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm
Turnbull, Trump said sanctions were only the first step.
"If the sanctions don't work, we'll have to go to phase two. Phase two may
be a very rough thing," he said, without elaborating.
Mnuchin said there were signs the punitive measures were starting to have an
impact, but did not elaborate.
The North Korean military and broader economy depend heavily on imports of coal
and oil from China and Russia.
China, Pyongyang's only major ally, has steadfastly rebuffed Washington's calls
for a full oil embargo -- fearing the chaotic collapse of the Pyongyang regime
-- but has accepted caps agreed at the United Nations.
The timing of the new measures coincides with the arrival in South Korea of
Trump's daughter Ivanka.
She is attending the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, which have taken
place against the backdrop of the crisis.
The 36-year-old businesswoman and now top aide to her father has been tasked
with reaffirming US ties with South Korea, which have been strained over how to
deal with the North.
She was hosted in Seoul by President Moon Jae-in, who has long advocated talks
rather than confrontation with North Korea.
"Mrs. Trump delivered a personal message to President Moon from President
Trump about today's North Korea-related sanctions announcement at a small
meeting at the Blue House," the White House said.
"They also discussed the continued effort on the joint maximum pressure
campaign against North Korea."
South Korean officials, who sit in a capital well within range of conventional
North Korea artillery, have been spooked by Trump's talk of military
US officials worry meanwhile that North Korea is luring Moon into talks that
are designed to go nowhere.
North Korea's delegation at the closing ceremony will be headed by top general
Kim Yong Chol, who is widely blamed for a series of attacks against the South
including the 2010 sinking of a warship, with the loss of 46 lives.
The White House spokeswoman said Ivanka would probably sit apart from the North
Korean delegation at Sunday's closing ceremony.