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U.S. imposes more sanctions over N. Korea

ReutersWASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States announced new sanctions aimed at stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons development on Wednesday and urged China and Russia to expel North Koreans raising funds for the programs.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships it accused of helping the weapons programs. It said two China-based trading firms were involved in exporting millions of dollars worth of metals and other goods used in weapons production.

The individuals included members of North Korea’s Workers Party operating in China, Russia and Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region. Among them were North Korea’s vice consul in Nakhodka, Russia, and an individual reportedly involved in sending North Korean laborers to Abkhazia.

“Treasury continues to systematically target individuals and entities financing the Kim regime and its weapons programs, including officials complicit in North Korean sanctions evasion schemes,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“The U.S. government is targeting illicit actors in China, Russia, and elsewhere who are working on behalf of North Korean financial networks, and calling for their expulsion from the territories where they reside.”

The entities sanctioned included North Korea’s Crude Oil Industry Ministry.

The action enables the United States to block assets held by the individuals or firms in the United States and prohibits U.S. citizens from dealing with them.

The United States has led an international campaign to tighten sanctions on North Korea to force it to give up development of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The U.N. Security Council in December unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, seeking to further limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil.

CIA director Mike Pompeo has said North Korea is “a handful of months” away from being able to make a nuclear attack on the United States.

On Tuesday, he said U.S. President Donald Trump’s focus was on a diplomatic solution to the crisis backed by tighter sanctions, but the CIA was working to provide a range of other options should that fail.

The Trump administration has said all options are on the table including military ones, and officials say the president and his advisers have discussed the possibility of a limited strike. But debate on military options has lost some momentum in recent weeks after North and South Korea resumed talks ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

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