The United States and South Korea will impose new sanctions on North Korea in an effort to crackdown on the North’s participation in arms proliferation and increase pressure on Pyongyang after the sinking of a South Korean warship.
The new sanctions – which were introduced Wednesday during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s two-day visit to Seoul – were announced ahead of next week’s large-scale war games in which 8,000 U.S. and South Korean troops are scheduled to participate.
North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking but a South Korean investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the attack – which resulted in the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors and the sinking of the Cheonan.
While the upcoming war games appear to be sending a message to the North that further naval aggression will not go unanswered, the newly announced sanctions are designed to target Pyongyang’s role in the proliferation of weapons and those individuals and company’s which have directly benefited from the trade.
Clinton told reporters on Wednesday that the new sanctions would include, "…additional State and Treasury designations of entities and individuals supporting proliferation, subjecting them to an asset freeze, new efforts with key governments to stop the DPRK trading companies engaged in illicit activities from operating in countries, and prevent the banks of other countries from facilitating these illicit transactions; expanded cooperation globally to prevent the travel of individuals designated under Security Council resolutions, as well as other key North Korean proliferators; [and] greater emphasis on North Korea’s repeated abuse of its diplomatic privileges, in order to engage in activities banned by the Security Council."
She also added that the U.S. would push for other countries to refrain from buying banned items from North Korea or exporting proliferation-related goods to North Korea.
While details remain scarce about the actual extent of the sanctions, supporters of further sanctions against North Korea are hoping that the new restrictions will put greater pressure on both the reclusive nation’s leadership as well as its trading partners.
"The sanctions must not only target a more extensive listing of North Korean entities but also other foreign countries, businesses, and banks that are violating UN Resolution 1874. The most notable examples would be Iran, Syria, and Burma. To be truly effective, Washington must also ensure compliance by other UN member nations as well as more vigorous enforcement of sanctions," wrote Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Bruce Klinger in the insider newsletter The Nelson Report.
Pyongyang responded to the new sanctions and the upcoming war games with a warning that the new efforts would be interpreted as hostile actions directed at North Korea.
"If the U.S. is really interested in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it should halt the military exercises and sanctions that destroy the mood for dialogue," North Korean spokesman Ri Tong Il told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on Thursday. "Sanctions mean ‘escalation of the [U.S.] hostile policy toward North Korea.’"
Exact details of the new sanctions remain to be seen but experts here in Washington are describing the sanctions and war games as responses to both the Cheonan sinking and the North’s refusal to give up its nuclear program.
"The exercises are more pointed at the Cheonan incident and the sanctions are as well, but are also directed at the nuclear program," Alan D. Romberg, director of the East Asia program at the Henry L. Stimson Center, told IPS.
China has expressed its concern over the upcoming war games which are to serve as a display of U.S. force in the region and to strengthen the U.S.-South Korea military alliance after the sinking of the Cheonan in March.
"China’s position on the ROK-U.S. joint military exercises is clear. We urge relevant parties to exercise calmness and restraint and refrain from activities that would escalate tension in the region," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang on Wednesday. "We resolutely oppose any foreign military vessel and planes conducting activities in the Yellow Sea and China’s coastal waters that undermine China’s security interests."
The new sanctions, which appear designed to penalize North Korea for its ongoing nuclear program and participation in arms proliferation, will be added to the existing sanctions regime against Pyongyang.
"It’s obvious that sanctions have not had the entire desired effect since the North, although it says it might, has not shown any indication that it will do the things that the Six Party Talks say they should, such as backing off from their nuclear program," said Romberg.
Some in Washington have expressed dismay that the U.N. resolution condemning the attack on the Cheonan fell short of placing blame on North Korea.
"I don’t think the announcement is some sort of a negative reaction to the UN response," said Romberg. "It was always assumed that whatever would have teeth would need to come from the individual countries."
(Inter Press Service)