What will new U.S. sanctions mean for North Korea?

Nation

JUDY WOODRUFF: From natural disasters to nuclear diplomacy, President Trump ordered new sanctions today aimed at crippling North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The order allows for targeting individuals and companies that trade with North Korea, including foreign banks.

The president made the announcement during a lunch with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For much too long, North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funding for its nuclear weapons and missile programs. Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later today, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, called President Trump — quote — "deranged" and said that he — quote — "pay dearly for his threat."

We get more on today's move with David Cohen, who served as deputy director of the CIA and undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration.

David Cohen, welcome back to the program.

DAVID COHEN, Former Treasury Department Official: Good to see you..

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how significant is this move by the president?

DAVID COHEN: I think it's actually quite significant.

These new sanctions that the president issued today with an executive order creates new, real and meaningful authorities for the United States to impose sanctions both on businesses that are working with North Korea and what is I think quite significant, financial institutions that are working with North Korea.

It is a combination really of what had been imposed on Russia and what we had done with respect to Iran that really ramped up the pressure there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So there have been sanctions against North Korea. How is this different from what had been done before?

DAVID COHEN: Well, most significantly, this authority allows what are called secondary sanctions on foreign financial institutions, which mostly are Chinese banks.

So, what it says is, any Chinese bank or any foreign financial institution that is working with designated, so sanctioned, North Korean entities can be cut off from the United States. That puts real pressure on those banks, and the president today said that they need to make a choice between working with North Korean institutions or working with the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, meantime, David Cohen, the Chinese government announced today that it is ordering its banks to cease doing any business with North Korea. So what does that tell you?

DAVID COHEN: That tells me that the Chinese may have known this was coming, and are taking steps to protect their financial system from the risk that one of their banks will get caught in these secondary sanctions.

They're telling their banks, back off from North Korea, don't do business with North Korea. That will protect them from the possibility that they will be sanctioned by the U.S.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does all this mean for North Korea? I just read the quote, the comment today from Kim Jong-un. What does it really mean for their country?

DAVID COHEN: Well, you know, Kim Jong-un is a master of over-the-top rhetoric. And we should look at what they do, not what Kim Jong-un says, because he is very practiced in that sort of rhetoric.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID COHEN: What these sanctions, I think, means is, I think it's a signal to the North Koreans that the United States is trying to maximize pressure.

But with that, and in all the statements from the White House today, came the hint that, if there was a potential negotiation here about the nuclear program, the United States was open to hearing that out. So I think it's a possibility for a negotiation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So potential pain for them not having this business, but an opening, is what you're saying?

DAVID COHEN: Exactly, and real significant pain if the United States follows through on imposing sanctions under these new authorities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, David Cohen, thank you again.

DAVID COHEN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

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