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U.S. imposes more sanctions on North Korea

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Jong Ho (Associated Press)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Jong Ho (Associated Press)

Tightening pressure on nuclear-armed North Korea and its allies, the Trump administration on Tuesday announced another round of economic sanctions against Pyongyang, blacklisting banks and individuals in several countries.

Even as the administration stepped up the economic pressure, President Trump repeated his warnings of possible military action.

“Not a preferred option,” he told reporters. “But if we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that, devastating for North Korea.”

Trump spoke at a brief White House news conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who agreed that North Korea posed an urgent danger and said he supported the U.S. sanctions.

Trump praised Rajoy for expelling North Korea's ambassador. Several countries have forced North Korean envoys to leave in recent weeks to show displeasure as Kim Jong Un's government has tested long-range ballistic missiles and a hydrogen bomb in defiance of U.N. resolutions. 

In the latest U.S. sanctions, the Treasury Department blacklisted eight North Korean banks and 26 individuals who the department said were operating in China, Russia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

The administration said the North Korean banks are used to help finance development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear bombs, and the individuals were working with the North Korean financial system.

The sanctions complement two other packages of penalties approved unanimously by the 15-member United Nations Security Council this summer, as well as earlier U.S. sanctions, according to U.S. officials. 

The U.N. sanctions target North Korean exports of seafood, textiles and coal, and limit its imports of oil.

China, Pyongyang’s main ally, is reluctant to cut too deeply into the impoverished country’s oil supplies for fear of toppling the government and triggering a refugee crisis that could spill across its borders.

The United States believes tightening the economic screws is key to forcing Kim's government to the negotiating table, much as international sanctions helped bring Iran to talks that produced a nuclear disarmament accord in 2015

“We are targeting North Korean banks and financial facilitators acting as representatives for North Korean banks across the globe,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

“This further advances our strategy to fully isolate North Korea in order to achieve our broader objectives of a peaceful and denuclearized Korean peninsula," he added.

The sanctions come amid an escalating war of personal insults between Kim and Trump.

After Trump used his speech last week to the U.N. General Assembly to mock Kim as "Rocket Man," the North Korean leader made a rare televised speech in which he called Trump "deranged. 

Trump said Tuesday that Kim was “acting very badly.” But he didn't repeat the insult. 

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