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Sanctions 'not big deal,' worse awaits North Korea, Trump says

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Photographs by AP

Chinese customs officials inspect trucks loaded with goods headed to and from North Korea on Monday in Dandong in northeastern China.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday that new U.N. sanctions "are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen" to stop North Korea's nuclear march, and U.S. officials showed Congress satellite images of illicit trade to highlight the challenge of getting China and Russia to cut off commerce with the nation.

The U.N. Security Council's restrictions are meant to further squeeze North Korea's economy after Kim Jong Un's authoritarian government conducted what it says was a hydrogen bomb test Sept. 3. The world body on Monday banned North Korean textile exports, a key source of hard currency, and capped its imports of crude oil.

The measures fell short of Washington's goals, which were a ban on oil imports and freezing the international assets of Kim and his government.

"We think it's just another very small step -- not a big deal," Trump said as he met with Malaysia's prime minister at the White House. "But those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen." He did not elaborate.

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Despite its limited economic impact, the new sanctions add to pressure on Pyongyang without alienating Moscow and Beijing. The U.S. needs the support of both of its geopolitical rivals for its current strategy of using economic pressure and diplomacy -- and not military options -- for getting North Korea to halt its testing of nuclear bombs and the missiles for delivering them.

Trump said it was "nice" to get a 15-0 vote at the U.N.

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But after the vote, China and Russia expressed concerns over U.S. envoy Nikki Haley's remark Monday that the U.S. would act alone if Kim's regime doesn't stop testing missiles and bombs.

The U.N. representatives of both countries on Monday reiterated what they called "the four nos": no regime change, no regime collapse, no accelerated reunification or no military deployment north of the 38th parallel dividing the Korean Peninsula.

"The Chinese side will never allow conflict or war on the peninsula," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement Tuesday.

The comments signaled that both China and Russia are only willing to go so far in pressuring Kim to abandon his nuclear program. Both nations have called for dialogue, something Trump has resisted.

China and Russia -- the biggest economic patrons of North Korea -- both share the view that North Korea won't give up its nuclear weapons without security guarantees, and they don't see the point in fomenting a crisis on their borders that will benefit American strategic goals. At the same time, they don't want Kim provoking the U.S. into any action that could destabilize the region.

Further underscoring U.S. questions about Chinese and Russian compliance with the new sanctions measure, senior U.S. officials told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that effective enforcement by both of the North's neighbors and trading partners will be the acid test of whether sanctions work.

The U.N. has adopted multiple resolutions against North Korea since its first nuclear test explosion in 2006, banning it from arms trading and curbing exports of commodities it heavily relies on for revenue. So far, the resolutions have failed to stop its progress toward developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could soon reach the American mainland.

DODGING THE RULES

Briefing the U.S. lawmakers, Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, displayed satellite photos to demonstrate North Korea's deceptive shipping practices.

Billingslea focused in particular on how the North masks exports of coal that were banned in August after it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In one example, a North Korean ship registered in St. Kitts and Nevis was said to have sailed from China to North Korea, turning off its transponder to conceal its location as it loaded coal. The ship then docked in Vladivostok, Russia, before finally going to China to presumably unload its cargo.

China accounts for 90 percent of North Korea's external trade.

"The success of the pressure strategy will depend on cooperation from international partners, especially Beijing," said Susan Thornton, America's top diplomat for East Asia. "We have also made clear that if China and Russia do not act, we will use the tools we have at our disposal."

Those tools include more sanctions. In June, the U.S. designated the Bank of Dandong, a regional Chinese bank, a "primary money-laundering concern" over allegations it helped North Korea access the U.S. and international financial systems.

Billingslea described the action as "a very clear warning shot that the Chinese understood."

He said North Korean bank representatives still operate in Russia in "flagrant disregard" of U.N. resolutions that Moscow voted for. This summer, the U.S. targeted two Russian companies with penalties for supporting North Korean missile procurement.

Lawmakers who spoke Tuesday said they support the U.S. pressure tactics, while voicing skepticism that North Korea could be forced into abandoning nuclear weapons it regards as a guarantee of survival for the Kim dynasty.

Rep. Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said U.S. and allied efforts should be "supercharged."

Describing the North's access to hard currency as its "Achilles' heel," the California Republican urged the administration to target more entities dealing with North Korea, particularly Chinese banks. He singled out the China Merchants Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the committee's top-ranking Democrat, also supported the pressure campaign. But the New Yorker criticized Trump's commentary on the North Korean crisis, which he said was making matters worse.

Also Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned that he would pursue sanctions against China if it does not adhere to the Security Council resolution.

For its part, North Korea condemned the U.N. Security Council's decision to impose tougher sanctions and doubled down on its warning that the United States would suffer "the greatest pain" it has ever experienced for leading the effort to ratchet up economic pressures on the reclusive nation.

North Korean Ambassador Han Tae Song told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that the North is "ready to use a form of ultimate means" but did not elaborate, Reuters reported. North Korea had warned ahead of the U.N. vote that the United States would pay a "due price" if it pursued stronger sanctions.

Today, South Korea said it had conducted its first live-fire drill for an advanced air-launched cruise missile that it says will strengthen its pre-emptive strike capability against North Korea in the event of crisis.

South Korea's military said the Taurus missile fired from an F-15 fighter jet traveled through obstacles at low altitudes before hitting a target off the country's western coast.

The South's military says the missile has a maximum range of 310 miles and is equipped with stealth characteristics that will allow it to avoid radar detection before hitting North Korean targets.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Pennington and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press; by Ting Shi, David Tweed, Kanga Kong, Enda Curran and Kambiz Foroohar of Bloomberg News; and by Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post.

Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, displays satellite images Tuesday at a House Foreign Aff...

A Section on 09/13/2017

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