President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on North Korea as the U.S. and its allies sought to ramp up pressure on Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear ambitions.
Speaking at the United Nations before a working lunch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, two key allies in the region, Trump said the order would significantly expand the U.S. ability to crack down on individuals and companies that do business with North Korea.
The president said he had empowered the Treasury Department to “target any individual or entity that conducts trade in goods, services or technology” with the country. The order also includes measures designed to “disrupt critical North Korean shipping and trade networks.”
Flanked at a table by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, Trump expressed an urgency to curb North Korea’s nuclear and ballistics programs.
“North Korea’s missiles and weapons development is a grave threat to peace and security in our world, and it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime,” Trump said. “The brutal North Korean regime does not respect its own citizens or the sovereignty of other nations. A new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to human kind.”
The announcement immediately raised questions about the impact on China, which is North Korea’s largest trading partner.
“I want to be clear the order targets only one country — that country is North Korea,” Trump said.
The president announced that he had “heard moments ago” that the Chinese had told their central bank to “immediately stop doing business with North Korea.”
“I want to thank President Xi [Jinping] of China for the very bold move he made today,” Trump said. “It was a somewhat unexpected move, and we appreciate it.”
The U.N. has passed two resolutions recently aimed at squeezing the North Korean economy by cutting off oil, labor and exports to the nation. Haley has said those measures have “strangled their economic situation,” but acknowledged it will “take a little bit of time” for the impact to be felt.
Trump has thanked the U.N. Security Council for voting unanimously on those sanctions, but also expressed frustration that the measures do not go far enough.
“The United Nations has had representatives working on this problem for over 25 years and they have done nothing,” Trump said Thursday. “That’s why we are in the problem we are in today, in addition to other countries not doing what they should have done. Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now.”
In his first-ever speech to the U.N. general assembly this week, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued its provocations.
South Korean President Moon, who campaigned on the promise he would seek dialogue with North Korea and has sought to tamp down the possibility of military action, on Thursday praised Trump’s executive order.
“President Trump just talked about the executive order, through which the U.S. is going to be implementing sanctions against the DPRK,” Moon said. “That was a very major announcement made by China to take actions on the DPRK. I am very confident that such moves will contribute to complete denuclearization of DPRK.”
Japanese President Abe has taken a similar hardline approach as Trump, writing in The New York Times this week that “prioritizing diplomacy and emphasizing the importance of dialogue will not work with North Korea.” On Thursday, Abe offered “heartfelt support” for the new sanctions.
“We are going into the new stage of pressure from the viewpoint of exercising the stronger pressure, new pressures,” Abe said. “I welcome the new sanction measures of the United States.”
Before the event, there were questions about whether Trump, Moon and Abe would all be on the same page about North Korea.
This story was updated at 2:28 p.m.