Obama slaps new sanctions on North Korea after tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives instruction during a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 15, 2016. REUTERS / KCNA

By Joel Schectman and Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama imposed sweeping new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday intended to further isolate the country’s leadership after recent actions by Pyongyang that have been seen by Washington and its allies as provocative.

The executive order freezes any property of the North Korean government in the United States and prohibits exportation of goods from the United States to North Korea.

It also allows the U.S. government to blacklist any individuals, whether or not they are U.S. citizens, who deal with major sectors of North Korea’s economy. Experts said the measures vastly expanded the U.S. blockade against Pyongyang.

North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Jan. 6, and a Feb. 7 rocket launch that the United States and its allies said employed banned ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful satellite launch.

“The U.S. and the global community will not tolerate North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile activities, and we will continue to impose costs on North Korea until it comes into compliance with its international obligations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Despite decades of tensions, the United States has not had a comprehensive trade ban against North Korea of the kind enacted against Myanmar and Iran. Americans were allowed to make limited sales to North Korea, although in practice such trade was tiny.

U.S. officials had believed a blanket trade ban would be ineffective without a stronger commitment from China, North Korea’s largest trading partner. But with China signing on to new U.N. sanctions earlier this month, that obstacle has been removed, experts said.

“North Korean sanctions are finally getting serious,” said Peter Harrell, a former senior State Department official who worked on sanctions.

The new sanctions threaten to ban from the global financial system anyone, even Europeans and Asians, who does business with broad swaths of Pyongyang’s economy, including its financial, mining and transportation sectors.

The so-called secondary sanctions will compel banks to freeze the assets of anyone who breaks the blockade, potentially squeezing out North Korea’s business ties in China and Myanmar.

“It’s going to be very hard for North Korea to move money anywhere in the world,” said Harrell, now with the Center for a New American Security.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney)

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