US Imposes Sanctions on 8 N. Korean Banks, 26 Executives

The United States has imposed sanctions on eight North Korean banks and 26 bank executives amid escalating tensions with Pyongyang over its nuclear program.

“This further advances our strategy to fully isolate North Korea in order to achieve our broader objectives of a peaceful and denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday in a statement.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for new economic sanctions against individuals and businesses that finance trade with Pyongyang’s reclusive communist regime and fund its weapons development.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis emphasized Tuesday that the U.S. sought a peaceful resolution to escalating tensions with North Korea, despite the regime’s claim that a tweet Monday by Trump was tantamount to a declaration of war.

In New Delhi for talks with Indian officials about strengthening U.S.-India ties, Mattis said that while the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula was necessary to deter North Korea’s threats, it also supported diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.

“And that is our goal, to solve this diplomatically, and I believe President Trump has been pretty clear on this issue,” Mattis said, following a meeting with India’s defense minister.

Hope for diplomacy

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday also stressed that the U.S. would “continue to pursue our diplomatic efforts and hope that’s the way we’ll solve this”

On Monday, Trump commented on Twitter that if North Korea carried out its threats, Kim Jong Un’s regime “won’t be around much longer.”

Speaking to reporters near U.N. headquarters in New York, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said, “Given the fact that this comes from someone who is currently holding the seat of the United States presidency, this is clearly a declaration of war.”

The world should clearly remember, he added, that “it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Ri’s characterization of the tweet “absurd.”

“We’ve not declared war on North Korea,” she said.

Although North Korea has declared “war” many times in the past, now “we’ve entered a bona fide crisis,” Van Jackson, senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, told VOA.

“Even if we’re not in a war right now, we seem to be doing everything in our power to make one happen by actions and statements that make deterrence more likely to fail,” said Jackson, a former director for Korea policy and a defense strategy adviser at the U.S. Defense Department.

Threat to bombers

Ri warned that his country might shoot down U.S. strategic bombers, even if they were not in North Korean airspace. According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency Tuesday, Lee Cheol-woo, the chief of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, said Pyongyang was spotted readjusting the position of its warplanes and boosting its defensive capabilities along its east coast.

A fighter jet from North Korea in 1969 shot down an unarmed U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane, outside North Korean territorial airspace in the Sea of Japan, killing 30 sailors and one marine on board.

Speaking at a security conference on Monday, Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the United States hoped to avoid war with North Korea, “but what we can’t do is discount that possibility.”

The Army lieutenant general added that the U.S. had thought through several different ways the problem with North Korea could be resolved, and “some are uglier than others.”

However, McMaster, told the conference, hosted by the Institute for the Study of War, that “there’s not a precision strike that solves the problem.”

One peaceful solution, according to McMaster, would be for Pyongyang to give access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But any diplomatic negotiations, McMaster said, would “have to happen under conditions that are different from previous talks.” He said, however, he was not going to come up with a list of preconditions.

Beijing’s role

Some analysts see the path to talks still running through Beijing, which recently moved to cut banking ties between China and North Korea, shut off the supply of liquefied natural gas to the North Koreans and stop imports of their textiles.

“I think that the Chinese are sending a signal to the North that they are skating on thin ice,” said T.J. Pempel, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

The North Korean foreign minister threatened on Saturday that his country could conduct an atmospheric hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

Mattis responded Monday that if North Korea carried out its threat, “this would be a shocking display of irresponsibility toward global health, toward stability, toward nonproliferation.”

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam escorted by F-16 fighter jets from a U.S. base in Japan on Saturday flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.

The Pentagon said the show of force, meant to display some of the military options available to Trump, was “the farthest north of the demilitarized zone any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.”

VOA’s William Gallo contributed to this report from New Delhi.


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