President Donald Trump quietly signed a government directive ordering a sweeping pressure campaign on North Korea early on in his administration to derail the rogue regime’s nuclear plans, a Saturday report revealed.
It turns out the Trump administration has a very clear strategy for dealing with the rogue regime. The Department of Defense has been targeting North Korean spies and hackers, the Department of State has been encouraging foreign governments to cut ties with Pyongyang at every opportunity, and the Department of the Treasury has been tightening the noose on North Korea’s economy through escalating sanctions on the regime and its supporters. At the same time, the U.S. has been keeping the door open for negotiation, according to The Washington Post, which cites U.S. officials familiar with the situation.
The White House announced a strategy of “maximum pressure and engagement” after a comprehensive policy review in March.
The Trump administration has long held the door open for talks, with Trump announcing in May that he would “absolutely” meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “I would be honored to do it,” he said. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said many times that the U.S. hopes to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.
Tillerson revealed Saturday in Beijing that the U.S. has several active communication channels with Pyongyang, but North Korea has not yet signaled any real interest in negotiations. North Korea has defiantly continued to engage in provocations.
Since the president took office, the North has tested nearly two dozen missiles, including a variety of new weapons systems, and a staged thermonuclear bomb. North Korea is believed to possess a hydrogen bomb with the ability to devastate an urban center and an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking parts, if not most, of the continental U.S.
In addition to reviewing America’s nuclear deterrence capabilities and boosting the effectiveness of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems, the U.S. has also noticeably increased the pressure on Pyongyang.
U.S. Cyber Command has been hammering hackers in the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s spy division, by overwhelming their systems with traffic to cripple their internet, U.S. officials told WaPo. North Korea is believed to have an army of roughly 6,000 elite cyber warriors.
“While I would not characterize them [North Korean hackers] as the best in the world, they are among the best in the world and the best organized,” Gen. Vincent Brooks, head of U.S. Forces Korea, revealed to Congress last year, according to Business Insider. Assuming WaPo’s reporting is accurate, the U.S. appears very interested in crippling these advanced asymmetric warfare capabilities, which could potentially wreak havoc in a crisis.
There is currently no indication that this is in addition to the alleged cyber campaign to hack North Korea’s missiles, a claim made by The New York Times with little to no evidence to support the assertion.
U.S. diplomats have also pushed countries to cut all ties with North Korea in almost every single conversation, and that has produced significant results. More than 20 countries have moved to restrict North Korea’s diplomatic activities, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton said Thursday.
Mexico, Peru, Spain, Kuwait, and others recently expelled their resident North Korean ambassadors, and China, an ally of the North Korean regime, has started reducing trade with North Korea, ordering domestic financial institutions to stop conducting business with North Koreans, restricting labor imports, shutting border crossings, and even closing the North’s businesses and joint ventures in China.
The Treasury Department has also been increasingly sanctioning and blacklisting North Korean entities, as well as foreign companies and individuals assisting the regime. The president signed an executive order in September expanding the powers of the Treasury to make it easier for the U.S. to target overseas entities that aid North Korea in violation of U.N. sanction resolutions. Through this order, the Trump administration put the world on notice, letting countries know they can either do business with the U.S. or North Korea, but not both.
Throughout the pressure campaign, the Trump administration has also made it clear that the application of military force, while not the preferred course of action, is on the table if North Korea takes its hostile provocations one step too far.
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