The US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on a Russian financial company Wednesday for allegedly assisting North Korea evade sanctions, while Washington’s top nuclear negotiator called for dialogue with Pyongyang with no conditions attached.
The Russian Financial Society is accused of opening multiple bank accounts since at least 2017 on behalf of Dandong Zhongsheng Industry & Trade, a company owned and controlled by the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank, Pyongyang’s primary foreign exchange bank.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (left) and China's President Xi Jinping at a roundtable discussion at the Second Belt and Road Forum. (Yonhap)
“Treasury continues to enforce existing US and UN sanctions against individuals and entities in Russia and elsewhere who facilitate illicit trade with North Korea,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said in a press release.
The treasury department said the Moscow-based firm’s actions have enabled North Korea to circumvent US and UN sanctions to gain access to the global financial system in order to generate revenue for Kim Jong-un regime’s nuclear program.
This is the first instance of US sanctions on a Russian financial institution for helping the cash-strapped North Korea since it designated Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank for knowingly conducting or facilitating a significant transaction for the regime in August 2018.
The announcement came just a few hours before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in North Korea.
Given that previous visits by Chinese leaders had been followed by packages of economic assistance to the North, analysts expect Xi may follow suit, possibly with food aid.
While sanctions against North Korea do not ban humanitarian aid, Washington, with its sanctions on the Russian firm, appears to be sending a warning to China to fully comply with the sanctions regime.
“Pyongyang’s aim has been to break the maximum pressure campaign by encouraging Beijing to move from active implementation to minimum compliance with UN sanctions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
On Wednesday, US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said that “the door is wide open” for negotiations with the North.
Speaking at the 2019 Atlantic Council-East Asia Foundation Strategic Dialogue in Washington, he said there are no preconditions to resuming nuclear talks that have fizzled since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un concluded their second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, without an agreement in February.
“Both sides understand the need for a flexible approach. … We have to go beyond the formulas that for the past 25 years have failed to resolve this problem,” Biegun said.
Lee Do-hoon, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, who also delivered a speech at the conference, urged the North to respond to President Moon Jae-in’s invitation to hold an inter-Korean summit before Trump visits Seoul next week.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)