Trump turns to sanctions, diplomacy on North Korea after threatening destruction

President Donald Trump announced an expansion of sanctions on North Korea Thursday and praised China for taking action to limit financial transactions with the isolated communist nation.

The effort to project forward momentum in his bid to isolate Pyongyang came at the end of Trump’s four-day visit to the United Nations General Assembly, where the crisis has taken prominence in rapid-pace meetings with more than a dozen world leaders.

His emphasis on economic efforts to end the standoff was a sign the President has not exhausted diplomacy in his dealings with North Korea, despite his warnings earlier in the week of dire military consequences should the nuclear provocations continue.

The new set of US sanctions on financial institutions that do business with North Korea is not targeted specifically at China, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Thursday.

“This action is directed at everyone,” Mnuchin said, adding the steps are “in no way specifically directed at China.”

Mnuchin said he’d spoken with a counterpart in China earlier Thursday. But he refused to say whether they’d discussed the new measures taken by China’s central bank that Trump had announced earlier.

Trump indicated ahead of talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts that China’s leader Xi Jinping — who was not present this week in New York — had told financial institutions to stop dealing with North Korea. Chinese state media was not yet reporting the decision, and the White House declined to say what the source of Trump’s information was.

The step would amount to major progress in US efforts to cut off support for Pyongyang as punishment for its nuclear provocations. Trump has applied pressure on Beijing, North Korea’s top economic patron, to end trade and financial support.

“It is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime,” Trump said at the start of the talks, held at a hotel in New York, adding he was calling for “complete denuclearization” in North Korea.

The executive order Trump inked just ahead of the lunch enhances Treasury Department authorities to target individuals who provide goods, services or technology to North Korea, Trump said. He added the order would also allow the US to identify new industries — including textiles, fishing and manufacturing — as potential targets for future actions.

The order also bans ships and aircraft that have visited North Korea from entering the United States for 180 days.

“Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now,” he said of providing resources to North Korea.

The new sanctions come two days after Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continues to threaten the United States and its allies.

Trump insists that military options are on the table for dealing with North Korea, but his aides have said diplomacy is the preferred outlet for containing the nuclear crisis.

Trump himself appeared to open the door for talks with North Korea, an option he’d previously ruled out. Asked at the end of the photo-op whether dialogue was still possible with North Korea, Trump said: “Why not?”

The remark indicated fresh openness for talks with Pyongyang, despite his insistence earlier this month that “talking is not the answer.”

The United Nations Security Council has approved multiple rounds of sanctions on North Korea, including on its exports. But they have yet to stop the communist nation’s leader Kim Jong Un from launching ballistic missile tests, and did not prevent a massive nuclear test earlier this month.

During talks Thursday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Trump was expected to reiterate that military options are available in retaliation for North Korean threats.

That’s likely to draw a rebuke from Moon, who has ruled out military action and issued warnings on the ramped-up rhetoric coming from Washington.

Still, Moon sought to appeal to Trump on Thursday, praising his bellicose remarks at the General Assembly and lambasting North Korea’s “deplorable” actions.

Trump took a liking to the phrasing, saying the word “deplorable” has been “a very lucky word for me and many millions of people,” a reference to Hillary Clinton’s use of it to describe some of his supporters.

The lunch was meant as a display of unity, though one without the region’s most important player, Xi. Trump spoke by phone with Xi on Monday and praised the leader during multiple sets of remarks here on Thursday for the banking moves, which were reported by Reuters.

“That was a tremendous move, and we have great respect,” Trump said. “And we also would like to thank President Xi of China. So that was a great thing he did today.”