The United States imposed sanctions on Thursday on two Chinese shipping companies it says helped North Korea evade sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.
In the first such step since a US-North Korean summit collapsed last month, the Treasury Department also issued an updated advisory that listed 67 vessels that it said had engaged in illicit transfers of refined petroleum with North Korean tankers or were believed to have exported North Korean coal.
The department identified the newly sanctioned firms as Dalian Haibo International Freight Co Ltd and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co Ltd, which it said had helped North Korea evade international sanctions.
The move prohibits US dealings with the designated companies and freezes any assets they have in the country.
Washington announced the measures three weeks after a second meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke down over conflicting demands by North Korea for relief from sanctions and from the US side for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
Washington has led international efforts to press North Korea through sanctions to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
“Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk,” he added.
The latest sanctions showed there was some “leakage” in North Korea sanctions enforcement by China, but Beijing was mostly abiding by the UN resolutions, a senior US official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity, according to the Reuters news agency.
The official said that financial as well as shipping companies risked US action if they were found to be in violation of sanctions.
The official insisted, however, that Thursday’s announcement was meant to maintain sanctions enforcement on North Korea rather than intensify the pressure.
While declining to say whether Washington was trying to send a post-summit message to Pyongyang, the official said Trump “has made clear that the door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea“.
US-North Korean engagement has appeared to be in limbo since the February 27-28 summit in Hanoi, despite US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on March 4 he was hopeful he could send a team to North Korea “in the next couple of weeks”.
Washington has said it aims to re-engage with Kim, but North Korea has warned it is considering suspending talks and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests in place since 2017 unless Washington makes concessions.