US President Donald Trump said the latest UN sanctions on North Korea agreed this week were only a very small step and nothing compared to what would have to happen to deal with the country’s nuclear program, Reuters reports.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned China that if it did not follow through on the new sanctions, the United States would “put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the US and international dollar system”, the news agency said.
Another senior administration official told Reuters any such “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other companies were on hold for now to give China time to show it was prepared to fully enforce the latest and previous rounds of sanctions.
The UN Security Council voted to boost sanctions on North Korea on Monday, banning its textile exports and capping fuel supplies, prompting a traditionally defiant threat of retaliation against the US.
The UN move was triggered by the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month. It was the ninth such resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member Security Council over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs since 2006.
A tougher initial US draft was weakened to win the support of China, Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner, and Russia, both of which hold UN veto power. Significantly, it stopped short of imposing a full embargo on oil exports to North Korea, most of which come from China.
“We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday.
”I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump, who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear missile capable of hitting the US.
Asked if Trump was considering other actions, including cutting off Chinese banks from the US financial system, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said:
“All options are on the table. The president has also said that he wants every country involved to step up and do more. This was a small step in that process, and we’re hoping that they’ll all take a greater role and a more active role in putting pressure on North Korea.”
Washington so far has mostly held off on new sanctions against Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy.
The North Korean ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, rejected the UN resolution as “illegal and unlawful” and said Washington was “fired up for political, economic, and military confrontation”.
North Korea is “ready to use a form of ultimate means,” Han said. “The forthcoming measures … will make the US suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history.”
Han did not elaborate, but North Korea frequently vows to destroy the US.
The latest UN resolution calls on countries to inspect vessels on the high seas, with the consent of the flag state, if they have reasonable grounds to believe ships are carrying prohibited cargo to North Korea.
It also bans joint ventures with North Korean entities, except for nonprofit public utility infrastructure projects, and prohibits countries from bringing in new North Korean workers.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the sanctions could eventually starve North Korea of an additional US$500 million or more in annual revenue. The US has said that a previous round of sanctions agreed in August was aimed at cutting North Korea’s US$3 billion in exports by a third.
Haley said the US was “not looking for war” and if North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear program, it could “reclaim its future”.
“If North Korea continues its dangerous path, we will continue with further pressure,” she said.
Joseph DeThomas, a former State Department official who worked on Iran and North Korea sanctions, questioned whether the new steps would have a major impact.
He said the labor restriction would be almost impossible to police and that trade statistics greatly overstated North Korea’s earnings from textiles.
Another senior administration conceded that the new sanctions would not be enough in themselves to change North Korea’s behavior, but would help measure compliance with UN restrictions by other countries.
“So don’t look at the sanctions as an end unto themselves, but as a step toward forcing violators to desist or be shamed and punished,” he said.
Frustrated US lawmakers called at a House hearing on Tuesday for a “supercharged” response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and said Washington should act alone if necessary to stiffen sanctions on China firms and any country doing business with Pyongyang.
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