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U.S. looking at sanctions to choke N. Korea financially

Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts after watching the test of a high-thrust engine newly developed by the Academy of the National Defence Science in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on Sunday.

ReutersWASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threat, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure — especially on Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with North Korea — plus beefed-up defenses by the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official familiar with the deliberations.

While the long-standing option of preemptive military strikes against North Korea is not off the table — as reflected by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning to Pyongyang during his Asia tour last week — the new administration is giving priority for now to less-risky options.

The policy recommendations being assembled by U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, are expected to reach the president’s desk within weeks, possibly before a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. North Korea is expected to top the agenda at that meeting.

It is not clear how quickly Trump will decide on a course of action, which could be delayed by the slow pace at which the administration is filling key national security jobs.

The White House declined comment.

Trump met McMaster on Saturday to discuss North Korea and said afterward that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was “acting very, very badly.”

The president spoke hours after North Korea boasted of a successful rocket-engine test, which officials and experts think is part of a program aimed at building an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

‘Secondary sanctions’

The administration source said U.S. officials, including Tillerson, had privately warned China about broader “secondary sanctions” that would target banks and other companies that do business with North Korea, most of which are Chinese.

The move under consideration would mark an escalation of Trump’s pressure on China to do more to contain North Korea. It was not clear how Chinese officials responded to those warnings but Beijing has made clear its strong opposition to such moves.

The objective would be to tighten the screws in the same way that the widening of sanctions — to encompass foreign firms dealing with Iran — was used to pressure Tehran to open negotiations with the West on its suspected nuclear weapons program. That effort ultimately led to a 2015 deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

For such measures to have any chance to influence the behavior of North Korea, which is already under heavy sanctions, Washington must secure full international cooperation — especially from China, which has shown little appetite for putting such a squeeze on its neighbor.Speech

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