President Barack Obama imposed sweeping new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday intended to further isolate the country’s leadership after recent actions by Pyongyang that have been seen by Washington and its allies as provocative.
The executive order freezes any property of the North Korean government in the United States (US) and prohibits the exportation of goods from the US to North Korea.
It also allows the US government to blacklist any individuals, whether or not they are US citizens, who deal with major sectors of North Korea’s economy. Experts said the measures vastly expanded the US blockade against Pyongyang.
North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Jan 6, and a Feb 7 rocket launch that the US and its allies said employed banned ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful satellite launch.
“The US and the global community will not tolerate North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile activities, and we will continue to impose costs on North Korea until it comes into compliance with its international obligations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Despite decades of tensions, the US has not had a comprehensive trade ban against North Korea of the kind enacted against Myanmar and Iran. Americans were allowed to make limited sales to North Korea, although in practice such trade was tiny.
US officials had believed a blanket trade ban would be ineffective without a stronger commitment from China, North Korea’s largest trading partner. But with China signing on to new United Nations sanctions earlier this month, that obstacle has been removed, experts said.
“North Korean sanctions are finally getting serious,” said Peter Harrell, a former senior State Department official who worked on sanctions.
The new sanctions threaten to ban from the global financial system anyone, even Europeans and Asians, who does business with broad swathes of Pyongyang’s economy, including its financial, mining and transportation sectors.
The so-called secondary sanctions will compel banks to freeze the assets of anyone who breaks the blockade, potentially squeezing out North Korea’s business ties in China and Myanmar.
“It’s going to be very hard for North Korea to move money anywhere in the world,” said Harrell, now with the Center for a New American Security.