By Zeke Miller / AP
Updated: February 23, 2018 12:19 PM ET

(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration hit more than 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses with sanctions Wednesday in its latest bid to pressure North Korea over its nuclear program.

The administration billed it as the largest installment of North Korean economic restrictions to date. President Donald Trump went further, declaring in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that it was “the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before.”

While the number of companies from North Korea and other nations was high, the economic impact is unclear. It was certain to be less than previous U.S. measures that targeted large banks and business networks in China and Russia that deal with the North.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on North Korea in the past year to deprive it of revenue and resources for its nuclear and ballistic missile development. Those weapons pose an emerging threat to the U.S. mainland. Washington is particularly concerned about exports of North Korean coal that are prohibited by the U.N. sanctions and ship-to-ship transfers of imported oil and petroleum products.

The Treasury Department said it was barring U.S. business transactions with nine international shipping companies from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Panama, and nine of their vessels. It also blacklisted 16 North shipping companies and 19 of their North Korean-flagged vessels.

Additionally, department designated a Taiwanese citizen, Tsang Yung Yuan, and two companies he owns or controls. Tsang was said to have coordinated North Korean coal exports with a Russia-based North Korean broker, and attempted $1 million oil deal with a Russian company sanctioned for dealing with the North.

“This will significantly hinder the Kim regime’s capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. If companies “choose to help fund North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States.”

In his speech, Trump said “hopefully something positive can happen” from the sanctions pressure.

The announcement comes as South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics, an occasion the two Koreas have used as an opportunity to ease tensions and restart talks. Although South Korea is a close U.S. ally, animosity between Washington and Pyongyang still runs high.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, arrived in South Korea on Friday to attend the closing ceremony this weekend. At a dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, she reaffirmed “our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized.”

The U.S. government also issued Friday a global shipping advisory highlighting the sanctions risk to those who enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea. It alerted industries to North Korea’s “deceptive shipping practices,” which includes falsifying the identity of vessels and disabling transponders that track ships’ movements.

The Treasury Department published photos of a U.S.-designated North Korean vessel, Kum Un San 3, which it said used false identifying information and conducted an illicit ship-to-ship transfer, possibly of oil, with a Panama-flagged vessel that was among the ships sanctioned Friday.


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