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U.S. announces new sanctions
against North Korea
Wednesday, July 21, 2010; 8:58 AM
SEOUL -- Searching for new ways to punish North Korea after blaming it for sinking a South Korean warship in March, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will strengthen existing sanctions against the North and impose new restrictions on its weapons trade and trafficking in counterfeit currency and luxury goods.
Administration officials traveling here with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates offered few details of what seemed a hastily put-together addition to other warnings and measures of displeasure already announced. On Tuesday, the United States and South Korea said they would hold "large scale" military exercises in an attempt to deter further hostile acts by North Korea.
On an unprecedented joint visit Wednesday to the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, Clinton and Gates marked the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Clinton said that as she gazed through binoculars across the most heavily guarded border in the world, delineated by razor wire and land mines, "it struck me that although it may be a thin line, these two places are worlds apart."
Gates was making his third trip to the DMZ; Clinton had never been there. The defense secretary said his last visit was 20 years ago, when he was director of the CIA.
"It is stunning how little has changed up there and yet how much South Korea continues to grow and prosper," Gates said, standing with Clinton in the rain outside a small United Nations building that straddles the border. "The North, by contrast, stagnates in isolation and deprivation. And, as we saw with the sinking of the Cheonan, it continues its history of unpredictable and, at times, provocative behavior."
Clinton and Gates later laid a wreath at the Korean War memorial and met with their South Korean counterparts. They were to meet Wednesday night with President Lee Myung-bak. Along with a visit to Seoul by Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, the meetings and events were intended to send a clear message of strong U.S.-South Korean relations at a time of heightened tensions in the region.
That volatility has worsened since the Cheonan, a South Korean frigate, sank in what an international team of investigators later determined was a torpedo attack. South Korea and the United States charged the attack, which killed 46 sailors, came from a North Korean vessel. The North has denied responsibility.
About 8,000 U.S. and South Korean forces will participate in the war games due to start Sunday in the Sea of Japan. The first stage of the exercises will last four days and include about 200 aircraft and 18 ships, including the USS George Washington, a 97,000-ton aircraft carrier.
"We fully expect this will send a strong signal to Pyongyang and Kim Jong Il," said Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, referring to the North Korean capital and its mercurial leader.
Washington and Seoul have been mulling over the exercises for months. But officials in both capitals said they decided to wait for the outcome of an international probe into the cause of the Cheonan's sinking, as well as a review by the United Nations Security Council. After weeks of diplomatic maneuvering, the Security Council unanimously condemned the attack on July 9 but did not directly blame North Korea because of opposition from China, Pyongyang's primary benefactor.
U.S. officials said subsequent exercises would take place over several months and that at least some would be held in international waters in the Yellow Sea, closer to China. They did not give details. China has vehemently opposed the exercises, calling them "provocative."
In Washington, President Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence warned of "a dangerous new period" in U.S.-North Korea relations, raising the possibility of an attack on South Korea. At his confirmation hearing, retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. told senators that the North may "once again attempt to advance its internal and external political goals through direct attacks" on the South.
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U.S. announces new sanctions against North Korea
The fighting in the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953; technically, both countries remain at war. U.S. troops have been stationed on the peninsula since, including 28,500 today. Those troop levels are expected to remain consistent for years to come.
Seoul and Washington have also agreed, in response to the sinking, that U.S. commanders will retain operational control of their joint military forces in South Korea, in the event of a new war, until at least December 2015. Previously, the U.S. military was scheduled to hand over operational command in 2012.
Officials from both countries said they had been considering the delay before the Cheonan sinking, but that recent concerns about North Korea cinched the decision.
North Korea is already the most isolated country in the world, with heavy U.S. and United Nations restrictions against financial and military dealings with it, and it was unclear what effect the newly announced sanctions measures would have.
Senior administration officials told reporters traveling with Clinton that they were still examining new types of sanctions. They said they were paying particular attention to illegal trade in counterfeit cigarettes, liquors and "exotic foods" that provide a lucrative source of income for the North Korean elite. The chief U.S. diplomat is on a weeklong trip that has taken her to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and will end Friday at a conference for Asian nations in Vietnam.
At a news conference with Gates and South Korea's defense and foreign ministers, Clinton said the goal of the sanctions was to "target [North Korea's] leadership, to target their assets."
The officials said they would also seek to further tighten North Korean dealings with international banks, using the banks' fear of "reputational risks" as well as specific measures that would cut them off from U.S. financial institutions. The administration will also seek to expand the list of North Korean entities and individuals subject to asset freezes and travel restrictions under existing United Nations sanctions.
Clinton said her special adviser for arms control, Robert Einhorn, would coordinate U.S. efforts and would travel to the region "to consult on sanctions implementation with our allies and partners." She also said that the United States would push for greater international emphasis "on North Korea's repeated abuse of its diplomatic privileges in order to engage" in banned activities.
Sweden recently arrested two North Korean diplomats accused of trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes.
The pledge to impose harsher sanctions on North Korea follows the administration's push for more international restrictions on Iran, which has similarly resisted an invitation to alter its behavior in exchange for reintegration in the international community.
"From the beginning of the Obama administration," Clinton said, "we have made clear that there is a path open to [North Korea] to achieve the security and international respect it seeks. North Korea can cease its provocative behavior, halt its threats and belligerence towards its neighbors, take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments, and comply with international law."
"If North Korea chooses that path, sanctions will be lifted, energy and other economic assistance will be provided, its relations with the United States will be normalized, and the current armistice on the peninsula will be replaced by a permanent peace agreement," Clinton said.
Asked whether suspended six-party talks over the North's nuclear weapons program and other issues could be resumed if North Korea would admit responsibility for the Cheonan sinking and apologize, Clinton said that talks "are not something we are looking at yet. . . . We expect to see North Korea" not only accept responsibility for the sinking, but also take "irreversible steps" to stop its weapons program.
Opinions might change "if we all concluded there was a very promising effort" on North Korea's part to change its ways, Clinton said. But "to date, we have seen nothing."
Gates, who spoke at the same news conference, said that both the United States and South Korea were "taking steps . . . to demonstrate" their "determination not to be intimidated."
Although China could not be persuaded to support a U.N. statement directly blaming North Korea for the Cheonan sinking, Gates said, "it was important that China voted for" a lesser statement that condemned the act without assigning blame. That resolution passed unanimously.
While China has taken a number of "worrying" recent actions, Gates said, "I remain open to rebuilding and strengthening the military-to-military dialogue between the United States and China."