September 30, 2016 12:08
The U.S. government is trying to strangle North Korea's lucrative trade in coal and iron ore with China.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the North earns US$1 billion annually from exports of coal, which accounts for a third of its total exports.
Russel said Washington is "focusing on our efforts on cutting off sources of revenue for the regime's unlawful and ballistic weapons programs, including revenue generated through the coal trade."
In January the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution following North Korea's fourth nuclear test banning imports of North Korean coal and iron ore. But at Beijing's insistence, exceptions were made for trade in goods that are necessary to support the livelihood of ordinary North Koreans.
Coal and iron ore accounted for 45 percent of the North's shipments to China in the first eight months of this year. Trade in those goods declined from April to July following UN Security Council sanctions but picked up again in August.
Russel said Washington is in talks with China on the matter at the highest government level. But China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a regular briefing, "Trade in coal and other minerals between China and [North Korea] conforms to the provisions of relevant UN resolutions and Chinese laws and regulations."
Russel also said Washington has instructed all U.S. diplomatic missions around the world to ask foreign governments to isolate North Korea. He said 75 countries have issued protests against North Korea, and a few canceled meetings or visits to the North by government officials.
The U.S. government is now probing North Korea's Air Koryo after sanctioning China's Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. for aiding the North's weapons programs.
Daniel Fried, the State Department's coordinator for sanctions policy, said U.S. allies are seeking to cut down on Air Koryo flights and some countries have already done so.
A Foreign Ministry official here said the U.S. moves are unprecedented in their severity.
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