U.S. Treasury map showing location of ship-to-ship transfers evading North Korea sanctions

In Shock Move, Trump Overturns New North Korea Sanctions Designations Via Tweet

President Trump Friday reversed his administration’s decision to designate two shipping companies based in China for helping North Korea evade international sanctions — in a surprise move announced on Twitter.

“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,” Trump’s Tweet Friday read, incorrectly suggesting the sanctions were imposed that day, rather than Thursday. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The decision seemed to blindside Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who Thursday had hailed the designations as an important addition to the U.S.-backed international sanctions designed to punish North Korea for its rogue nuclear weapons program.

Treasury department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a follow-up statement emailed to reporters, Trump Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Saunders explained the president’s action as a favor to North Korean despot Kim Jong-un. “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control Thursday had announced the designation of two shipping companies based in China for helping North Korea evade international sanctions by exporting coal and importing oil.

The designation would have meant any assets that the two companies had in the United States would have been frozen and would have banned U.S. entities, including banks and communications companies, from doing any business with them.

It came alongside an update to a joint OFAC-Coast Guard shipping advisory listing 67 vessels the U.S. believes have engaged in illicit at-sea transfers of refined petroleum with North Korean tankers or in the export of North Korean coal. The advisory also highlights techniques used by North Korea to evade sanctions, including disabling or manipulating automated identification systems, physically altering vessels, at-sea cargo transfers between ships and falsifying documentation.

OFAC named the designated firms as Dalian Haibo International Freight Co Ltd and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co Ltd, both based in Dalian, a sprawling seaport on the Liaodong Peninsula in eastern China, close to the North Korean border.

“Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“Today’s action highlights the deceptive methods that the North Korean regime uses to circumvent international and U.S. sanctions, as well as the U.S. Government’s commitment to implement existing UN Security Council resolutions,” the department added.

It was the first such sanctions enforcement action since U.S.-North Korea talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program collapsed last month.

Shaun is an award-winning journalist who has worked for the BBC and United Press International. In the past five years, Shaun has launched two of the best-respected and most widely read DC daily cybersecurity newsletters — POLITICO Pro's Morning Cybersecurity and Scoop News Group's CyberScoop. Shaun became UPI's Homeland and National Security Editor shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, covering the Department of Homeland Security from its standup in 2003. His reporting on DHS and counter-terrorism policy earned him two (2005, 2011) "Dateline Washington" awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a senior fellowship at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. In 2009-10 Shaun produced a major report on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington think tank. From 2010-2013, he wrote about intelligence, foreign affairs and cybersecurity as a staff reporter for The Washington Times. Shaun, who is British, has a master’s degree in social and political sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He is married and lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three American sons, Miles, Harry and Peter.

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