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Trump may broach secondary sanctions in talks with Xi

Apr 07,2017
A White House National Security Council (NSC) senior official indicated that so-called secondary boycotts may be discussed early in the high-stakes summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On the eve of the meeting between the two leaders at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asia at the NSC, said at a news conference, “I’m not going to go into specifics of our approach on North Korea, but I will say this is going to be an early topic in our conversation during the summit” on the possibility of talks of secondary sanctions against Pyongyang.

Also referred to as secondary boycotts, secondary sanctions would penalize a third country that does business with North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has indicated the need to impose secondary sanctions on North Korea if necessary. He told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his confirmation hearing in January that it is “appropriate” for Washington to consider secondary sanctions on Chinese entities found to be violating existing sanctions on North Korea if China does not comply with UN sanctions.

Pottinger, who has been deeply involved in planning Xi and Trump’s 24-hour meeting, said, Washington would “like to see China working closely with the United States to address the menace emanating from North Korea,” including their weapons programs, the weekly provocations and missile launches, including Pyongyang’s launch of an intermediate-range missile earlier on Wednesday.

It is “in Beijing’s interest” to do so, said the former journalist, adding that “North Korea long ago ceased to be a strategic asset for China.”

He said that North Korea is now “quite clearly a strategic liability” with the “potential to destabilize not only the peninsula but really the region as a whole.”

Pottinger, who is fluent in Mandarin, also accompanied Tillerson on his visit to Beijing last month.

Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a teleconference on Wednesday, “I don’t know if we’ll be to be talking about how China can contribute to a resolution of this problem,” when asked if Washington is expecting an agreement on sanctions.

She emphasized Tillerson’s message that “the time for talk is over,” a sentiment the secretary conveyed in his visit to Northeast Asia last month which also brought him to Seoul and Tokyo. “I think we will be looking for help from China to increase the pressure,” underscoring North Korea is a “high-priority issue.”

On whether China’s harassment of Seoul over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system will be discussed in the summit, she said “it could,” adding, “if it does, I think we would repeat our position that we find it to be troubling and disappointing to see that kind of retaliation taking place.”

Trump said in his phone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea, Japanese media reported Thursday.

Likewise, there is expected to be a call between U.S. and Korean high-level officials as soon as possible after the summit between Xi and Trump, said a diplomatic source in Seoul.

Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a briefing Thursday that Pottinger and Thornton’s remarks, “clearly show what sort of strategy the United States is assuming on the North Korea nuclear issue during the U.S.-China summit.”

Pointing to Washington’s recognition of the urgent security threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and emphasis that the time for talk is over, as well as Pottinger’s remark that North Korea is no longer a strategic asset to Beijing, he said these press conferences “served as a confirmation of the United States’ intention to step up efforts to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue.”

He added that Seoul and Washington are also arranging a visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]