WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Friday that if the new sanctions his administration imposed on North Korea don’t restrain the government in Pyongyang, Washington will embark on what could be a “very rough” second phase.
The president alluded to the possibility of military action against North Korea during a joint press conference at the White House with visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“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.”
A reporter asked whether all options remained on the table, Washington-speak for the use of force.
“We’ll have to see. I don’t think I’m gonna exactly play that card. But we’ll have to see,” the president said.
He addressed the issue hours after the Treasury Department imposed new economic sanctions on 27 companies and 28 vessels located or registered in numerous countries, saying the move was aimed at further isolating North Korea.
It said the moves, which are part of US efforts to thwart Pyongyang’s nuclear program, would block North Korea from conducting illicit maritime activities and cut off the flow of hard currency to Kim Jong-un’s regime.
“Treasury is aggressively targeting all illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions, including taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies and entities across the globe that work on North Korea’s behalf,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The sanctions target one individual and ships or companies that are located, registered or flagged in China, Panama, Tanzania, North Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands and Comoros and, according to US President Donald Trump’s administration, are helping Pyongyang evade an international ban on coal exports and fuel imports.
“This will significantly hinder the Kim regime’s capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters,” Mnuchin said.
The Treasury Department’s announcement came shortly after Trump, addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, described the new measures as the “heaviest sanctions ever imposed” by the US.
Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have escalated over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
“The president has made it clear to companies worldwide that if they choose to help fund North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States,” Mnuchin added.
The new sanctions freeze the assets that those companies and entities may have that are subject to US jurisdiction and bar them from carrying out financial transactions with US citizens.
The tougher sanctions come amid an apparent improvement in relations between North Korea and South Korea, which are still technically at war 65 years after an armistice agreement was signed.
During her visit this month to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, the North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, delivered an invitation from her brother for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.
That invitation, a further step in a recent thaw in bilateral relations, sets up what could be the first meeting between Korean leaders since 2007.