US to blacklist companies, people accused of helping NKorea make money to fund nuclear program

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Washington's new sanctions seek to cut off North Korea's illicit moneymaking sources by freezing the assets of those who help the regime fund its nuclear weapons program, a senior U.S. envoy said Monday, describing a blacklisting tactic to further isolate Pyongyang financially.

The U.S. will publicly name institutions and people accused of helping North Korea make money illegally in the next few weeks, Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said in Seoul.

Einhorn, shedding light on the sanctions two weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced them during her own visit to Seoul, said the measures will pinpoint "illicit and deceptive" activities such as drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting and the banned trade in conventional arms.

"We know that these activities bring hundreds of millions of dollars in hard currency annually into North Korea, which can be used to support DPRK nuclear or military programs or fund luxury goods purchases," Einhorn said.

DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Einhorn, calling Iran and North Korea "two of the greatest threats" to international security, said Washington is concerned about a global network of trading firms involved in proliferation-related activities.

He said the U.S. would begin freezing the assets and bank accounts of companies connected to North Korea, and urged other nations to pressure banks in their nations to freeze suspect accounts as well.

Washington has taken similar steps against Pyongyang in the past. In 2005, Washington blacklisted Banco Delta Asia, a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau accused of helping North Korea launder money and conduct other illicit activities.

Institutions concerned about their reputations and reluctant to jeopardize their ties with the U.S. cut off dealings with the bank — effectively severing North Korea from the international financial system.

"These measures are not directed at the North Korean people," Einhorn said. "Instead, our objective is to put an end to the DPRK's destabilizing proliferation activities, to halt illicit activities that help fund its nuclear and missile programs and to discourage further provocative actions."

North Korea, which tested a nuclear bomb in 2006, is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs and last year revealed it has a uranium enrichment program that would give the regime a second way to make nuclear weapons.

Five nations — China, Russia, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan — have been trying for years to negotiate with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid and other concessions.

Pyongyang abandoned those talks last year after the U.N. Security Council condemned the regime for carrying out a long-range missile test. Weeks later, North Korea carried out a second nuclear test.

Both nuclear tests earned Security Council resolutions, one in 2006 imposing sanctions and the other in 2009 tightening them.

North Korea also faces U.S. and South Korean blame for the March sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors — the worst military attack on the South since the 1950-53 Korean War. Clinton said the new sanctions were part of measures meant to warn Pyongyang to resist further provocations.

Einhorn encouraged other nations to be aggressive in implementing the U.N. resolutions. However, he said China's support is critical.

China, North Korea's main benefactor and traditional ally, is a permanent, veto-wielding member of the Security Council and has balked at coming down too hard on its impoverished neighbor.

"We want China to be a responsible stakeholder in the international system," Einhorn said. "That means cooperating with the U.N. Security Council resolutions."

Einhorn and Daniel Glaser, the Treasury Department's deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, head to Tokyo on Tuesday and are to visit China later in the month.

North Korea denies sinking the warship and warned after Clinton's visit that it would fight back against any punishment.

"The DPRK will bolster its nuclear deterrent in a more diversified manner and take strong physical measures ... now that the U.S. opted for military provocations, sanctions and pressure," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in comments carried July 24 by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

On Monday, North Korea's Pak Ui Chun again denied involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan warship, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Jakarta after meeting with the diplomat.

North Korean foreign minister said Pyongyang is ready to return to disarmament talks, according to Natelegawa.

"Indonesia welcomes DPRK's readiness for dialogue ... and encourages efforts to revive the six-party talks as a solution mechanism for all problems on the Korean peninsula," Natalegawa told reporters.

North Korea must first demonstrate its sincerity, Einhorn said.

"We can't repeat the kind of cycle we've been through in a number of previous occasions where North Korea engages in talks, makes commitments and then abandons those talks and reneges on those commitments," he said. "We have to break those cycles, especially in the wake of the Cheonan incident."


Associated Press writer Sangwon Yoon in Seoul and Irwan Firdaus in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.