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US to widen sanctions against North Korea

Clinton, Gates tour DMZ with South officials

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates looked north yesterday from the DMZ. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates looked north yesterday from the DMZ. (Mark Wilson/ Getty Images)
By Mark Landler and Elisabeth Bumiller
New York Times / July 22, 2010

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SEOUL — The Obama administration announced yesterday that it would impose further economic sanctions against North Korea, throwing legal weight behind a choreographed show of pressure that included an unusual joint visit to the demilitarized zone by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The measures, announced here by Clinton after talks with South Korean officials, focus on counterfeiting, money laundering, and other dealings that she said the North Korean government used to generate hard currency to pay off cronies and cling to power.

While the United States already places heavy sanctions on North Korea, officials insisted that the new measures would further tighten the financial vise around North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, who, according to regional intelligence, is in declining health.

The unilateral US action follows by two months a South Korean-led investigation found North Korea responsible for the March sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors. The North’s bellicose behavior, analysts say, reflects a deepening power struggle inside the country. But the United States has struggled to build consensus about how harshly to confront the Kim government.

While the UN Security Council voted to condemn the sinking of the warship, it did not name North Korea as the culprit because of resistance from China, the North’s neighbor and most important ally.

Clinton demanded that the North take responsibility for the attack, saying it will continue to be a pariah until it does. She ruled out any negotiations with the North Korean government until it agrees to relinquish its nuclear weapons. And she said that the United States will expand and stiffen its sanctions to “target their leadership, target their assets.’’

“These measures are not directed at the people of North Korea, who have suffered for too long due to the misguided and maligned priorities of their government,’’ Clinton said at a news conference, flanked by Gates and South Korea’s defense and foreign ministers. “They are directed at the destabilizing, illicit, and provocative policies pursued by that government.’’

Her announcement punctuated a visit rich in symbols of US diplomacy and military might, organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. On Tuesday, the United States and South Korea confirmed that they will stage large-scale military exercises in the seas off Japan and the Korean Peninsula, as a show of deterrence against the North.

Yesterday, Gates and Clinton traveled to Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone, where they clambered up an observation post in a gloomy drizzle to peer into the North. Later, as the pair toured a small building that straddles the military demarcation line, a North Korean soldier stared at them through a window.

Neither acknowledged the soldier. Afterward, the two stood before a phalanx of cameras, under the gaze of guards from the North Korean side, to proclaim solidarity with South Korea.

“It is stunning how little has changed up there and yet how much South Korea continues to grow and prosper,’’ Gates said, noting that this was his third visit to the demilitarized zone — the first being in the early 1990s when he was director of central intelligence.

It was Clinton’s first visit. “Although it may be a thin line,’’ she said, referring to the narrow strip of land separating the two sides, “these two places are worlds apart.’’

Clinton is heading to a regional security meeting in Vietnam today, likely to face more reluctance to point fingers at North Korea over the Cheonan. On Tuesday, the meeting’s sponsor, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, issued an opening statement that said it “deplored’’ the sinking but did not name the aggressor.

Administration officials would not give specifics on the planned North Korean sanctions, but said they would mainly build on those already put in place by the Treasury Department or the Security Council.

Clinton said she would send her adviser on nonproliferation and arms control, Robert J. Einhorn, in coming days to discuss the sanctions with countries in Asia. Because no legitimate US banks do business with the North, the effectiveness of the measures will depend heavily on persuading banks in other countries to shun North Korea.

Given the North’s profound isolation, some analysts question how much more damage sanctions can do.

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