North Korean hopes that an Olympic “charm offensive” would slow the international campaign to isolate their country have been dashed. Pyongyang’s refusal to abandon its nuclear weapon program continues to bar rapprochement with the rest of the world. Last week, the United States announced what President Donald Trump called “the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country” and there are reports of an intensified campaign to interdict ships carrying trade with North Korea. The strategy of “maximum pressure” continues unabated — as it should — but the risk of a conflict is also rising.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Friday that the U.S. “is aggressively targeting all illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions.” His department sanctioned 56 entities — one person, 27 companies and 28 ships, located, registered or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and Comoros. The targets include shipping and energy firms, as well as a Taiwanese citizen and two of his companies. As Mnuchin explained, the sanctions force companies and individuals anywhere in the world to choose between helping fund North Korea’s nuclear ambitions or doing business with the U.S. They cannot do both.