PYONGYANG: The United States ramped up sanctions aimed at curtailing North Korea’s nuclear weapons drive Thursday, as Kim Jong-Un vowed that Donald Trump’s “deranged” threats would only toughen his resolve.
The US president unveiled the new measures as he met with the leaders of allies Japan and South Korea, even as key international players China and Russia voiced unease with his more aggressive approach.
Two days after threatening in his first address to the UN General Assembly to “totally destroy North Korea,” Trump signed an executive order to ban firms from operating in the United States if they deal with North Korea.
Time will tell whether economic pressure forces Kim to back down, but the young dictator was keen to show the world that he was not intimidated by Trump’s forceful rhetoric, and responded with some of his own.
Kim, whom Trump has nicknamed “Rocket Man”, called the 71-year-old “mentally deranged” and warned that his threats have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.”
Trump’s most senior cabinet members have joined him in New York for the UN meeting and a week of high-stakes diplomacy, and were on hand to reinforce his message.
“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 said.
Later, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the UN Security Council: “North Korea may assume that nuclear weapons may ensure the survival of its regime. In truth, nuclear weapons are clearly only leading to greater isolation, ignominy and deprivation.”
The United States already punishes foreign firms tied to North Korea’s military programs but the latest action sharply expands the range, targeting businesses involved in everything from technology to fishing.
Financial companies may feel the biggest impact. Trump’s order also bans any aircraft or ship that has traveled to North Korea from landing in the United States.
The European Union readied its own sanctions. The wealthy bloc agreed to a ban on investments in North Korea and EU exports of oil to the regime, diplomatic sources said in Brussels.
Trump also said China’s central bank had ordered national banks to curb their dealings with North Korea, describing the move from Pyongyang’s key ally as “very bold” and “unexpected.”
This month North Korea has tested its sixth nuclear bomb and has test-fired intercontinental missiles — saying it needs to defend itself against hostility from the United States and its allies.
The US administration has refused to offer North Korea incentives to open negotiations and has ramped up threats of military action to force leader Kim to change course.
But meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said “Why not?” when asked whether there could be a dialogue with North Korea.
China, Russia warn on approach
China has by far the most influence on North Korea, providing an economic lifeline. But it also fears the consequences if the regime collapses, such as an exodus of refugees or a US-allied reunited Korea on its border.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the General Assembly there was still room for talks — the polar opposite of remarks a day earlier by Japan’s Abe who said that past dialogue had achieved nothing.
“There is still hope for peace and we must not give up. Negotiation is the only way out and deserves every effort,” said Wang, who also asked South Korea and Japan not to consider developing their own nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that while his government condemns North Korea, “military hysteria is not just an impasse, it’s disaster.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivered a strikingly open rebuttal to Trump’s “America First” theme from an ally.
“The motto ‘Our country first’ not only leads to more national confrontations and less prosperity. In the end, there will only be losers,” Gabriel said in his address, three days before Germany’s election.
South Korea’s Moon, a longtime dove who was elected president in May, supported the sanctions but took a different tone from Trump.
South Korea was not seeking the collapse of its neighbor and was ready to help if Pyongyang decides “to stand on the right side of history” and halts its provocations, he said.
“The situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue needs to be managed stably so that tensions will not become overly intensified or accidental military clashes will not destroy peace,” said Moon, who met later jointly with Trump and Abe.
Implementation to be key
Peter Harrell, a former State Department official, said Trump’s executive order was “pretty sweeping in scope” and went well beyond the latest UN sanctions, which curtailed North Korean textile exports and guest workers.
But Harrell, now at the Center for a New American Security think tank, said the key question would be implementation.
“If important Chinese and Russian companies keep trading with North Korea, will Trump in fact impose sanctions on them?” he asked.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho is expected to meet on Saturday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will send out feelers on possible diplomatic talks.