- President Donald Trump sowed confusion after saying he would walk back new Treasury Department sanctions aimed at hurting North Korea.
- The penalties were enacted against two China-based companies on Thursday.
- In a tweet on Friday, Trump said he would order “the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions.”
- But the White House later suggested the Treasury Department’s penalties were still in place, and that no additional sanctions are being pursued at this time.
- The White House explained the move by saying Trump “likes” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, adding that the president doesn’t think the sanctions are necessary.
- The sanctions, which national security adviser John Bolton described as “important actions,” had been announced by the Treasury just a day earlier.
The US government’s new policy toward North Korea is apparently that President Donald Trump “likes” Kim Jong Un and is willing to let him slide on potential sanctions in the future, a move that seemed to take his own administration by surprise.
Trump prompted confusion on Friday when he appeared to overturn new Treasury Department penalties against North Korea. The White House cited the president’s affinity for the North Korean leader as the reasoning.
The sanctions, which were imposed on Chinese shipping companies accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions, were announced by the Treasury Department on Thursday.
Treasury designates two shipping companies for attempted evasion of North Korea sanctions https://t.co/Y0W8al1dgb
— Treasury Department (@USTreasury) March 21, 2019
National security adviser John Bolton described the sanctions as “important actions” in a tweet that day.
“The maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices,” Bolton said. “Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion.”
Important actions today from @USTreasury; the maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices. Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion. https://t.co/AVnOPrWbH6
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 21, 2019
Less than 24 hours later, Trump tweeted, “It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”
Subsequently, in an apparent attempt to clarify Trump’s tweet, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
Bruce Klingner, an expert on North Korea at the conservative Heritage Foundation, on Friday told a VOA News reporter this move from Trump “sends a signal that ‘maximum pressure,’ which was never maximum to begin with, isn’t going to get any stronger…Congress will not react well to this.”
“Maximum pressure” refers to the Trump administration’s strategy of squeezing North Korea economically with sanctions in an effort to get Pyongyang, the country’s capital, to agree to denuclearization.
When asked for his thoughts on Trump’s abrupt shift, James Carafano, a leading national-security expert at Heritage, told INSIDER, “My experience is wait for things to settle and see what is really up and not to jump off the roof at the first tweet.”
Responding to Trump’s announcement, Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted, “I’ve been working on sanctions policy for 15+ years. Don’t recall ever seeing a president overrule a Treasury announcement AFTER it was announced.”
“The United States needs to decide on one policy and stick to it,” Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the nuclear expert for the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama, told INSIDER.
“The factions and continued infighting show the US does not have its act together. Any good President or national security advisor would demand a normal process to determine and implement policy. What we have is chaos,” Wolfsthal, who is now director of the Nuclear Crisis Group, added.
Meanwhile, Democrats are going after Trump on the back-and-forth in his administration.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who is running for president in 2020, in a tweet accused Trump of “embracing authoritarian dictators, one tweet at a time.”
Booker added, “America deserves so much better than this.”
Another Democratic senator said Trump’s abrupt reversal “defies logic” and called for congressional action.
“There is no question that Trump is being played by Kim Jong Un – one of the world’s most vicious dictators. Sidestepping his own Treasury Dept. and withdrawing sanctions against North Korea the same day they were announced defies logic. Congress must step in,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen tweeted.
There are also reports that suggest Trump’s tweet and the White House’s subsquent statement did not relate to Thursday’s sanctions but other large-scale sanctions the Treasury Department was poised to announce and the president decided against.
In short, there’s a fair amount of confusion about this development and no clear picture of where US policy toward North Korea really stands.
This all comes on the heels of Trump’s second summit with Kim, which took place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Many experts characterized the summit as a massive failure because Trump walked away without a deal, but his supporters presented it as part of ongoing negotiations.
North Korea has since shown signs of increased military activity and threatened last week to scrap talks with the US altogether.
Choe Son-hui, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, said last Friday that the relationship between Trump and Kim was “still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful.” But she then added that Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were fostering an “atmosphere of hostility and mistrust.”