U.S. to redouble efforts, with allied help, to interdict high seas smuggling to North Korea

The State Department has announced it will be working with U.S. allies, notably Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, to redouble efforts to enforce UN-imposed sanctions against North Korea.

In particular, according to a State Department press release, efforts will be made to interdict vessels on the high seas suspected of smuggling fuel, oil, and other commodities to Pyongyang.

“The United States welcomes coordination on international efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea’s illicit shipping activities, which prohibit ship-to-ship transfers of any goods or items to or from North Korean vessels of any goods or items going to or coming from North Korea,” the statement says.

“The United States applauds the recent announcements from Japan, Australia and New Zealand regarding monitoring and surveillance activities to detect UN-prohibited illicit North Korean maritime activities, with a particular focus on detecting and disrupting ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum to North Korean tankers in the East China Sea,” it continued.

“We are pleased that this coordinated, multinational initiative includes these countries, along with Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. As part of this effort, we are sharing information and coordinating efforts to ensure that UN Security Council Resolutions are implemented fully and effectively. In support of this initiative, the United States has deployed aircraft and surface vessels to detect and disrupt these activities,” the statement noted.

“North Korea continues to regularly employ deceptive tactics to evade UN sanctions. Accordingly, UN Member States are required to prohibit persons or entities subject to their jurisdiction from engaging in ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum. In addition, the United States will not hesitate to impose sanctions on any individual, entity, or vessel supporting North Korea’s illicit activities, regardless of nationality,” said the department.

Analysis: Even as North and South Korea continue their peacemaking dialogue, and as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly angles for a second summit with President Donald Trump, the U.S. remains committed to the fundamental objective of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

During a media appearance on Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made that abundantly clear. Asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace if the U.S. was not getting enough concessions from Kim to move forward with further talks, Pompeo responded:

“Everybody’s got their own idea of what a concession might be. Some thought it was a concession for President Trump to go to Singapore. I certainly didn’t think so. President Trump doesn’t. But what we’ve made clear is the economic sanctions, the driving force to achieve the outcome we’re looking for, will not be released. The U.N. Security Council will not reduce those sanctions until such time as we’ve achieved that final denuclearization.”

Last week, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held their third summit. We noted that as a result of those talks, Kim said he would dismantle key missile testing and launch facilities, and that he was open to denuclearization but he wanted concessions from the U.S. as well, including a formal peace treaty. Moon will meet later today with Trump at Trump Tower in New York City; he is expected to brief the president on what Kim wants.

Pompeo’s statement that the U.S. is fully committed to the enforcement of UN sanctions, coupled with the State Department’s announcement that the U.S., in conjunction with allies, is committed to interdicting Kim’s high seas lifeline, indicates that regardless of what is happening on the ground or diplomatically Trump is keeping up pressure on Pyongyang to get a denuclearization deal in place sooner rather than later.

Besides a treaty, Kim wants security guarantees — which is reasonable. The U.S. doesn’t want to go to war on the Korean peninsula anymore than Kim does, but Trump isn’t about to agree to anything that does not include a full accounting of Kim’s nuclear inventory and production assets, as well as ongoing monitoring after weapons are removed.

We are nowhere near that stage yet. But we are going to get there much more quickly by cutting off the smuggling lifeline to Pyongyang.



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