U.S. Pursues Financial Leverage Over N. Korea

The Obama administration is preparing to wield broad financial pressure to try to force North Korea to dial back its weapons program, building on strategies former President George W. Bush employed, but then unwound.

The Treasury Department is taking a leading role and will work through international banking channels to try to restrict funds to 17 North Korean banks and companies that U.S. officials say are central players in Pyongyang's nuclear and weapons trade. These firms serve as a financial lifeline to leader Kim Jong Il, his family and ruling circle.

United Nations sanctions call for the banning of the shipment of all luxury goods to Pyongyang's leadership. American diplomats are also negotiating through the U.N. Security Council to sanction by July 12 as many as a dozen North Korean individuals or companies active in Pyongyang's weapons trade. There is likely to be overlap with the U.S. Treasury's list of 17 sanction targets.

U.S. officials said they're targeting key nodes in the North Korean financial system. The language of the new Security Council resolution also provides Washington with leeway to go after a much wider range of targets, said these officials.

"There are some very powerful provisions" in the new resolution, said a senior U.S. official working on the effort. "It calls for the prevention of all financial services that could contribute to North Korea's...weapons of mass destruction-related programs."

The Bush administration pioneered the use of the global banking system as a weapon against nations involved in arms proliferation and terrorism, such as North Korea, Iran and Syria.

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