Trump to reverse North Korea sanctions imposed by Treasury

By Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell

President Trump set off a flurry of confusion Friday when he announced he would reverse sanctions against North Korea that were recently announced by the Treasury Department.

In a tweet, Trump wrote that “it was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions” would be imposed in addition to “already existing Sanctions on North Korea.”

“I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!” the president added.

In a brief statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed the decision to Trump’s relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.

What sanctions?: White House officials did not specify which sanctions Trump was reversing, and the Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

But on Thursday, the department announced it was imposing new penalties on two Chinese shipping companies accused of helping North Korea evade existing sanctions.

That announcement, however, was not made within the timetable included in Trump’s tweet.

How important were the sanctions?: Just a day before Trump’s tweet, his own advisors were stressing the importance of the new sanctions.

National security adviser John Bolton, for example, tweeted Thursday that they were “important actions” to further isolate North Korea.

“Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” Bolton tweeted.

They were also the first sanctions imposed since Trump’s Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended without a nuclear agreement, and so were widely interpreted as sending a signal that Trump’s maximum pressure campaign would hold despite Pyongyang’s demands for sanctions relief.

Experts weigh in: Not long after Trump’s tweet, North Korea analysts shared their own takes with the media.

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA Korea deputy division chief now at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Trump’s move “sends a signal that ‘maximum pressure,’ which was never maximum to begin with, isn’t going to get any stronger.”

Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, suggested Trump is trying to prevent North Korea from cutting off nuclear talks as it has hinted it might in recent weeks.

“Trump’s cancelling out of sanctions might have been a bid to get North Korea to change its thinking,” he said in an email to reporters. “No matter what happens now, you can bet the North Koreans will only want to deal with Trump from now on considering this action.”

Congressional reaction: Lawmakers in both parties expressed dismay about Trump’s decision.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subpanel on East Asia, tweeted that “Treasury was right.”

“Maximum Pressure means sanctioning North Korea’s enablers,” Gardner said. “Treasury was right – sanctions should be imposed, as is required by US law. Strategic Patience failed. Don’t repeat it.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted that “Trump is being played by Kim Jong Un–one of the world’s most vicious dictators.”

“Sidestepping his own Treasury Dept. and withdrawing sanctions against North Korea the same day they were announced defies logic. Congress must step in and pass the BRINK Act,” Van Hollen, referring to North Korea sanctions legislation he has introduced.

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