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Playing Hardball with North Korea


Susan Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary, East Asia and Pacific, U.S. Department of State

We’ve called on all UN member states to fully implement the commitments they made regarding North Korea.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program is today one of the most serious threats to the world as a whole. North Korea has threatened its neighbors and flouted United Nations resolutions.

North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM on July 4 was a major escalation. Kim Jong Un’s resolve to achieve a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States mainland constitutes a serious escalation of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.

The threat posed by North Korea is not new, having challenged five previous Administrations, said State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton.

From long experience, we know that North Korea has no intention of abandoning its nuclear program in the current environment. But increasing economic and diplomatic pressure may work, particularly since Kim Jong Un’s regime has never faced a sustained period of intense international pressure. We will change that, working with international partners wherever possible. But we will not hesitate to act unilaterally against those who enable North Korea’s pursuit of strategic nuclear capabilities.

Based on these experiences, we have developed a three-pronged strategy, said Acting Assistant Secretary Thornton. First, we’ve called on all UN member states to fully implement the commitments they made regarding North Korea. Second, we’ve urged countries to suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations with North Korea. And finally, we asked all countries to cut trade ties with Pyongyang to increase North Korea’s financial isolation.

“We have relentlessly implemented this policy,” said Acting Assistant Secretary Thornton. “From Mali to Malaysia, we have made clear that applying greater pressure on North Korea is not only a talking point, it is an area where we expect continuing cooperation as a basis for strong bilateral relations.”

Crucial to the success of our strategy is our trilateral cooperation with Japan and South Korea, as is China’s growing but uneven pressure, particularly economic pressure, on North Korea.

“Together, these actions all send a clear message to the international community – if you attempt to evade sanctions and conduct business with designated North Korean entities, you will pay a price,” said Acting Assistant Secretary Thornton.

“We will continue to fully exercise all of our standing sanctions authorities to choke off revenue streams to [North Korea].”

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