President Trump announced on Friday the "heaviest" sanction by the United States against North Korea, as his administration redoubles its efforts to deprive Pyongyang of resources and force the isolated regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
"We imposed today the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a country before," Trump said at the close of a broad address to a conservative political conference.
The new measures are aimed at 56 ships, shipping companies and other entities that Trump administration officials believe are used by North Korea to conduct transactions prohibited by previous sanctions.
Significant advances in its nuclear and missile programs have made North Korea the most pressing foreign threat facing the Trump administration.
The punitive measures, which follow several rounds of previous sanctions, indicate the determination of the officials Americans to use financial pressure to make North Korean leader Kim Jong A renounce nuclear weapons, and his concern that fossil fuel trade under the radar undermines his ability to do so.
Trump made the announcement in the final moments of a speech of more than an hour at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the outskirts of Washington. "I love you, I respect you, I appreciate everything you've done for the country," the president said, pausing while the crowd applauded and some shouted "USA! USA!"
"I mean, because people have asked: North Korea, "he said before briefly mentioning the sanctions. "Fortunately, something positive can happen." We'll see. "
Senior US officials described the elaborate steps that North Korea has taken to conceal its illicit transport activities, including the conduct of prohibited ship-to-ship transfers, the falsification of vessel names and the deactivation of the systems of automatic vessel identification "to intentionally attempt to mask their movements. "
" We are determined through these efforts to increase pressure and show Kim Jong Un that there is no other way to go but denuclearization, "said an official, who like others, spoke on condition of anonymity he told reporters before Trump's remarks
It is not clear whether the application of improved sanctions will significantly affect Kim's government, which has been challenging in the face of mounting economic pain.
"These will gradually increase the pressure but they will not make a substantial difference, "said Patrick Cronin, an Asia scholar at the Center for a New American Security." The strategy is intended to be one of slower and slower pressure, not a sudden destabilizing blow. "
Friday, the Treasury Department posted photos of what it said were North Korean ships with fraudulent names and identification numbers.
The companies include companies based in China, Singapore and Panama.
The administration issued a global shipping notice designed to heighten awareness of North Korea's attempts to conceal its maritime activities and to warn companies that they might be subject to sanctions if they trade with the regime.
"Through today's actions we are noticing to companies and countries around the world that this administration sees compliance with US and US sanctions as a national security imperative," Treasury Secretary told reporters , Steven Mnuchin. "Those who trade with North Korea do so at their own risk."
Mnuchin said that the scope of this round of sanctions is considered "the largest number we have done against him, as well as shocking." "
The new measures come when Ivanka Trump and a presidential delegation visit South Korea to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Trump attended An earlier dinner on Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Mnuchin said that Ivanka Trump was informed about this, and she discussed the sanctions with Moon before they were publicly announced.
Moon said that Korea's participation North at the Olympic Games has been an opportunity for us to participate in active discussions between the two Koreas and this has led to a decrease in tensions on the peninsula and an improvement in inter-Korean relations. "
" I also believe that such developments they are thanks to President Trump's strong support for the inter-Korean dialogue, and I would like to express my deep appreciation on this point as well, "said Moon.
Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to the president who does not plan to make North Korea the focus of her visit, said the Trump administration is committed to "our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized. "
Another key element of the Trump administration's strategy to confront North Korea is to build a more complete record of international sanctions.
Speaking hours before the new sanctions were announced, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the Trump administration had prevailed where its predecessors had failed.
"After 25 years of failed bipartisan attempts to bribe the North Koreans to end their nuclear search, we realized that we have to stop the sources of income that support it," he said in a speech before the Institute of Politics. from the University of Chicago.
He affirmed the success of the United States by leading three rounds of successively stricter international sanctions in the UN Security Council over the past year. These sanctions are more effective than any that the United States can apply on its own, mainly because they involve the main trading partner of Pyongyang, China.
"And even though North Korea has yet to end its nuclear and missile programs, we know that the sanctions are having a real impact," Haley said. "The regime has less and less money to spend on its ballistic missile tests, and less ability to threaten other countries with these tests."
He said the squeeze, more than any other factor, forced the Kim regime to "catch up with South Korea and do damage control in public relations" at the Olympics.
"Their sources of income are running out, sending cheerleaders to PyeongChang was a sign of desperation, not national pride," he said.
David Nakamura in Washington, Anne Gearan in Chicago and Anna Fifield in Seoul contributed to this report.