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Update: US to impose maritime sanctions against North Korea

The U.S. is set to issue new sanctions aimed at disrupting North Korean maritime trade, according to senior administration officials.

President Donald Trump was expected to include a discussion of the sanctions in his Feb. 23 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md.

"These designations are specifically targeted at disrupting North Korean shipping and trade companies and vessels and those from other countries to further isolate the regime," one official told reporters. "We are aggressively targeting their ability to evade sanctions while also significantly hindering the regime's ability to continue to conduct these illicit maritime activities that facilitate coal and fuel transport."

In a separate briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that the U.S. was working on a sanctions package when he was in South Korea for the winter Olympics.

"While we appreciate the fact that there haven't been tests, that's not exactly a terrific standard of what we're applying," Mnuchin said when asked by reporters about the timing of the sanctions given that North Korea has not conducted a missile test in several months. "There's a huge process that goes into preparing these sanction packages. As soon as they were ready, we were prepared to release them today."

Mnuchin was also asked why no Russian ships were sanctioned as part of the package. He responded by saying an update on Russian sanctions would be forthcoming within the next several weeks.

"We're prepared to blacklist Russian ships to the extent there are Russian ships," Mnuchin said. "Let me be clear: whether they're Russian ships, whether they're Chinese ships, we don't care whose ships they are. If we have intelligence that people are doing things, we will put sanctions on them."

The sanctions target 27 shipping and trade companies, 28 vessels and one individual, for a total of 56 total designations. Those entities are located, registered or have been flagged in countries around the world, including but not limited to China, Singapore, Taiwan, Tanzania and Panama, a senior administration official said.

"The U.S. mission to the United Nations is also going to concurrently seek designations on these targets," one administration official said. "Treasury, in conjunction with the State Department and the U.S. Coast Guard, is issuing a global shipping advisory. The advisory is intended to alert the world to deceptive shipping practices used by North Korea to evade sanctions, and also, of course, make sure that it's loud and clear that there are very significant consequences to evading our sanctions regime and the U.N. sanctions regime."

The official described some North Korean tactics to evade sanctions, such as repainting some vessels to hide their true names and avoid detection. The administration plans to release "a very substantial shipping advisory" to the entire industry, which will highlight red flags about the kinds of practices the North Korean regime employs.

"It also talks about mitigation steps that companies and countries can take," an official said of the advisory. "It flags the U.N. Security Council resolution obligations. It flags our sanctions regime and it also makes clear, as all of our actions do, that those who engage in this kind of activity are going to be subject to not only our designations, but in certain circumstances, our enforcement actions."