WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the latest U.N. sanctions on North Korea agreed this week were only a very small step and nothing compared to what would have to happen to deal with the country’s nuclear program.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned China that if it did not follow through on the new sanctions, the United States would “put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system.”
Another senior administration official told Reuters any such “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other companies were on hold for now to give China time to show it was prepared to fully enforce the latest and previous rounds of sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council voted to boost sanctions on North Korea on Monday, banning its textile exports and capping fuel supplies, prompting a traditionally defiant threat of retaliation against the United States.
The U.N. move was triggered by the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month. It was the ninth such resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member Security Council over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs since 2006.
A tougher initial U.S. draft was weakened to win the support of China, Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner, and Russia, both of which hold U.N. veto power. Significantly, it stopped short of imposing a full embargo on oil exports to North Korea, most of which come from China.
“We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
”I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump, who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States.
Asked if Trump was considering other actions, including cutting off Chinese banks from the U.S. financial system, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said:
“All options are on the table. The president has also said that he wants every country involved to step up and do more. This was a small step in that process, and we’re hoping that they’ll all take a greater role and a more active role in putting pressure on North Korea.”
Washington so far has mostly held off on new sanctions against Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy.
CHINA AND NORTH KOREA
Trump is likely to make a stop in China in November during his first official visit to Asia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks in Washington on Tuesday with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, at which details of the trip were expected to discussed.
The U.S. president has wavered between criticizing China for not doing enough on North Korea to heaping personal praise on the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
North Korea said its Sept. 3 test was of an advanced hydrogen bomb and it was its most powerful nuclear blast by far. It has also tested a missile capable of reaching the United States, but experts say it is likely to be at least a year before it can field an operational nuclear missile that could threaten America.
The North Korean ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, rejected the U.N. resolution as “illegal and unlawful” and said Washington was “fired up for political, economic, and military confrontation.”
North Korea is “ready to use a form of ultimate means,” Han said. “The forthcoming measures … will make the U.S. suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in its history.”
Han did not elaborate, but North Korea frequently vows to destroy the United States.
The latest U.N. resolution calls on countries to inspect vessels on the high seas, with the consent of the flag state, if they have reasonable grounds to believe ships are carrying prohibited cargo to North Korea.
It also bans joint ventures with North Korean entities, except for nonprofit public utility infrastructure projects, and prohibits countries from bringing in new North Korean workers.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the sanctions could eventually starve North Korea of an additional $500 million or more in annual revenue. The United States has said that a previous round of sanctions agreed in August was aimed at cutting North Korea’s $3 billion in exports by a third.
Haley said the United States was “not looking for war” and if North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear program, it could “reclaim its future.”
“If North Korea continues its dangerous path, we will continue with further pressure,” she said.
Joseph DeThomas, a former State Department official who worked on Iran and North Korea sanctions, questioned whether the new steps would have a major impact.
He said the labor restriction would be almost impossible to police and that trade statistics greatly overstated North Korea’s earnings from textiles.
Frustrated U.S. lawmakers called at a House hearing on Tuesday for a “supercharged” response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and said Washington should act alone if necessary to stiffen sanctions on China firms and any country doing business with Pyongyang.
Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said time was running out and Chinese firms should be given “a choice between doing business with North Korea or the United States.”
Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea acknowledged at the hearing he had not seen sufficient evidence past sanctions were effective, but defended the administration’s strategy.
He called on anyone aware of efforts to enable North Korean trade to come forward before getting caught, warning: “We are closing in on North Korea’s trade representatives.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the Trump administration was making a mistake by rejecting diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
”The U.S. needs to switch from isolation to communication in order to end an ‘endless loop’ on the Korean peninsula, where “nuclear and missile tests trigger tougher sanctions and tougher sanctions invite further tests,” it said.
Additional reporting David Lawder, David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick and Patrician Zengerle in Washington; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Philip Wen in Beijing; Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo and Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis