As Washington pauses its “maximum pressure” campaign while negotiating for the denuclearization of North Korea, it is essential to push the international community to continue pre-summit sanctions on Pyongyang, said a U.S. congressman.
“We can keep applying pressure on business entities around the world that you either choose to do business with the United States or you do business with North Korea, but you can’t do it with both,” said Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican.
“The goal is to get all nations to abide” by sanctions that were put in place, Yoho said.
Yoho, as chairman of Asia and the Pacific panel of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has been working with the Treasury Department to get Hong Kong to comply with pre-existing sanctions by cracking down on North Korean shell companies that launder money for Pyongyang. U.S. officials in Hong Kong told Yoho the Hong Kong government “has really cracked down on these secondary businesses. And they’re making it a lot harder for them to be covert, so they’ve got to be a lot more transparent.”
Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub, has been linked to Pyongyang’s effort to evade sanctions. The United Nations blacklisted companies based in Hong Kong in March.
The Hong Kong government tightened anti-money-laundering efforts on June 22 to close loopholes in its sanctions law to comply with U.N. resolutions adopted since March 2016.
But the detente between Washington and Pyongyang since the summit has led some nations to consider easing sanctions on North Korea imposed before the June 12 Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in over the weekend to discuss infrastructure projects, including laying a pipeline from Russia to South Korea through North Korea to carry Russian natural gas to South Korea, and a railroad connecting Russia and South Korea via North Korea. The projects would pay hefty transit fees to North Korea.
According to Yoho, however, discussions on economic cooperation as Washington seeks denuclearization of the North could work in Washington’s favor by incentivizing Pyongyang to improve its economy in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons.
“We can’t be distracted by Russia offering something [to North Korea] or South Korea saying, ‘All right, we’re going to open up trade,’ because it takes incentive off Kim Jong Un to negotiate,” said Yoho. “And I don’t think the U.S. wants to be a part of that.”
Yoho said maximum pressure would be reinstated if there was an indication that North Korea was not following through on its commitment to denuclearize.
“If Kim Jong Un goes in a negative direction, launches a missile, or isn’t forthright in denuclearization or commitment to do that, then there will be more pressure put on them,” said Yoho.
According to Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury Department official and current senior vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Trump has hit “pause” for the time being on the maximum pressure campaign “for a short-term observation period.”
During this breather that gives Pyongyang time to follow through on its commitment to denuclearize, Washington will “attempt to use more of a carrot than a stick, at least in the short term,” said Schanzer.
If Pyongyang does spurn the U.S. as it has done in the past, Washington can impose significant additional sanctions, Schanzer said, adding that this includes cracking down on Chinese banks that deal with the Kim regime, North Korea’s illegal ship-to-ship transfers at sea, and North Koreans working abroad.
“I think what’s important to remember here is that the United States has offered nothing that’s irreversible,” said Schanzer. “Any pause put in the maximum pressure campaign can be put back in play. Even the announcement of the halt to certain [military] exercises on the peninsula can be reinstated. There’s nothing that the U.S. has given up permanently.”
Schanzer agreed with Yoho that it is crucial for the U.S. to maintain pressure on the international community to enforce existing sanctions on North Korea, especially by clamping down on “illicit financial activities.” He said he felt that Washington should address this in any nuclear deal.
“What needs to be done here, if we were to pursue a nuclear deal with North Korea, it needs to be beyond nukes,” said Schanzer. “It will need to address illicit financial practices that North Korea engages in. … The entire international community should be brought in to ensure that North Korea is complying with whatever structures are put in place.”
Christy Lee contributed to this report, which originated from the VOA Korean service.