On Friday, President Trump’s White House announced another round of sanctions aimed at countering North Korea’s efforts to circumvent previous sanctions intended to strangle funding away from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs. Only days later, Kim Jong Un’s regime indicated that they are now willing to begin diplomatic talks with U.S. officials.

The new sanctions target one individual person, 27 entities and 28 ships from North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and the Comoros. All of them are accused of working to smuggle goods into or out of North Korea despite international sanctions championed by the United States and implemented by the United Nations.

The North Korean shipping industry is a primary means by which North Korea evades sanctions to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” a US public advisory said. “As such, the United States will continue targeting persons, wherever located, who facilitate North Korea’s illicit shipping practices.”

According to reports out of South Korean on Sunday, a North Korean delegation met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in secret over the weekend, and expressed a willingness to engage in diplomatic talks with the U.S. State Department, provided those talks were brokered by South Korea. Relations between North and South Korea have been warming since the inclusion of North Korea in the Winter Olympic Games last month, and Moon was quoted as saying that he believes these talks should commence “as soon as possible.” The White House, however, responded with some trepidation.

We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” an official White House statement reads. “In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”

This image, released by the Treasury last November, shows ships conducting ship-to-ship transfers of North Korean goods for export.

The North Korean delegation was not led by Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un who made headlines by attending the Olympics opening ceremonies on February 9th. Instead, Kim Yong Chol, the former head of North Korea’s General Reconnaissance Bureau, led the eight-person delegation that met with Moon to discuss opening talks with the U.S.

Donald Trump’s Daughter, Ivanka Trump, attended the closing ceremony, serving in her capacity as a Presidential Advisor. Unlike Vice President Mike Pence, who made a point not to applaud North Korean participation in the game, the first daughter stood and clapped for the joint North and South Korean delegation as they passed by.

However, despite the possibility for a historic step toward peace in the form of diplomatic talks between U.S. and North Korean officials, the sabre rattling on the Korean peninsula continues. In conjunction with the new sanctions, President Trump is reportedly considering instituting a form of naval blockade around North Korea, aimed at enforcing international sanctions that have been circumvented by things like ship-to-ship transfers. North Korea has responded, however, by claiming that any such action would be interpreted as an overt act of war.

“If tension on the Korean peninsula escalates into a brink of war due to the US reckless actions, all the catastrophic consequences resulting therefrom will be borne by the United States,” Kim Jong Un’s regime said in an official statement regarding such a blockade.

In a press briefing of Friday, Trump seemed to insinuate that these sanctions may be his final effort to avert war with North Korea, saying that if they didn’t work, the U.S. would have to go to “phase two.”

“Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully the sanctions will work,” Trump said.

The president chose not to elaborate on what “phase 2” could mean.

Feature image courtesy of the Associated Press

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