The Antichrist’s New Nationalist Iraq

Iraq’s post-Daesh political landscape
Ibrahim Al-Malashi
The US is no longer the most eligible suitor in Iraq’s power games. The US is becoming isolated, and local leaders are increasingly courting regional players to secure patronage ahead of elections next year.
Two significant visits this summer have shown how Iraqi power brokers are preparing for Iraq’s elections in April 2018.
First, former Iraqi prime minister and current vice-president, Nuri Maliki paid a visit to Moscow, meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Second, the Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr—who holds no official position in the Iraqi government—visited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The significance of these events is that they indicate the nodes of power that are vying for control in the aftermath of the liberation of Mosul. These power brokers are seeking foreign patronage to bolster their positions domestically, yet are also indicative of regional and international powers vying for influence in Iraq, as ISIS’s (Daesh) power wanes.
As ISIS is defeated, an Iranian-US battle for influence over the Iraqi state will ensue. The visits to Russia and Saudi Arabia respectively, serve as messages to the US and Iran that the influence they gained in Iraq – by combatting the Islamic State – can, and will, be contested by Iraq’s political elite.
Iraq’s domestic politics
Maliki’s meeting with Putin was surprising given that the former is one of Iraq’s three vice presidents, which are primarily ceremonial roles. Maliki stepped down in the summer of 2014 after the ISIS capture of Mosul, partly due to pressure from the US, who sought out a more conciliatory politician, Haidar al-Abbadi, to assume the premiership. Maliki resigned, but has been planning for his political come back since then. If Maliki blames the US for unseating him, his visit with Putin communicates to Washington that he enjoys the support of another power broker in the region.
Moqtada Sadr has also been planning a political comeback since 2008, when his militia, the Mahdi Army was defeated in street battles by the Iraqi military with American support. Sadr’s tactic has been to embrace the street protests that erupted in 2015 over government corruption.
As the de-facto spokesperson of this movement, he used the protests to criticize Iran’s influence in Iraq’s domestic politics. Sadr further challenged Iranian influence in Iraq in 2017 by calling for the demobilization of the Iraqi Shia militias, many of which serve as Iranian proxies.
Because Sadr has been hesitant to embrace Iranian patronage, the Islamic Republic, he believes, will seek to deprive him of asserting his own presence on the Iraqi political landscape. By distancing himself from Iran, Sadr has sought to rebrand himself as an Iraqi nationalist, and both the protests and trip to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, serve as a message to Tehran that Sadr can carve out his own political agency.
Both Maliki and Sadr are Iraqi Shia power brokers. Yet their divergent actions demonstrate that there is no united Iraqi Shi’a political bloc to speak of. Furthermore, incumbent prime minister Haider al-Abbadi, himself a Shia, has attempted to foster a sense of Iraqi nationalism and unity, since the national victory in Mosul in July. The month of August has foreshadowed how the Iraqi Shia political elites are already jockeying for position as the 2018 elections approach.
Russia’s Middle East Geopolitics
In the early stages of the fight against ISIS, the Iraqi state mulled bringing in greater Russian involvement into the fight in 2015. Under the Obama administration, US pressure sought to prevent Iraq from doing this. Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration might be ambivalent about Russia projecting its influence in Iraq, having practically ceded Syria to Moscow’s orbit as well.
Russia’s embrace of Maliki has to be put in context of how Moscow is assessing both American and Iranian power in Iraq after the liberation of Mosul.
Russia has witnessed the American approach to combatting ISIS in Iraq, in addition to Syria. The US prefers standoff warfare – aerial bombardment, with only a limited number of ground troops. In a post-ISIS Iraq, the only leverage the United States has on the ground is its 5,000 strong military advisory mission, and future prospects of American arms sales.
By investing in building up Iraq’s land forces, Iran was able to carve a land corridor for its ground forces up to the Iraqi-Syrian border, through Syria, finally culminating in Lebanon –providing a contiguous conduit for Tehran’s proxy on the Mediterranean, Hezbollah.
Russia, by deploying its military forces to Syria, was instrumental in enabling Iran to create this new geography.
Iran’s ability to invest in creating power on the ground will keep Baghdad firmly within Tehran’s influence. The US could wean Iraq away from Iran with the promises of arms sales, but Maliki’s trip to Russia, where he signed a contract on behalf of Iraq to purchase Russian T-90 tanks, demonstrates, first, that Iraq does have options beyond complete dependence on the US for national security. Second, while al-Abbadi has a good working relationship with the US, Maliki’s trip indicates that if he were elected, he would reorient Iraq towards a Russian-Iranian axis.
This episode demonstrates a continuous trend of how Iraq, and the region in general, has been penetrated by extra-regional powers, such as the US and Russia, and regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But rather seeing Iraq as a country that is acted upon by foreign powers, the actions of the Iraqi politicians demonstrates a willing embrace of this system, as long as it enhances their domestic power.

South Korea and the Nuclear War (Daniel 8:8)

South Koreans want their own nuclear weapons but doing so risks triggering a wider war

Jeff Daniels | @jeffdanielsca
Published 9:37 AM ET Thu, 24 Aug 2017
A man walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017.
Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images
North Korea has nuclear weapons — and a majority of South Koreans support getting them too, but the consequences of doing so could be far reaching.
U.S. battlefield nuclear weapons in South Korea were removed in 1991, but since then North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and achieved alarming success in its ballistic missile program. Based on reports, the North has the capability to produce several dozen nuclear bombs.
“It’s not really a good solution for a country like South Korea to remain non-nuclear when its neighbors are becoming nuclear and becoming quite aggressive,” said Anders Corr, a former government analyst and principal at consulting firm Corr Analytics.
Polling done by Gallup Korea has shown nearly 60 percent of South Koreans would support nuclear armament, according to Yonhap news agency. The largest support is found among residents age 60 and above.
Some suggest that the opinion surveys reflect the anxiety level of some South Korean residents about what the true aims are of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, an unpredictable and brutal leader known for taking risks. The 33-year-old dictator has become more forceful in threats and stepped up the regime’s missile testing program even as the communist country struggles against increasing sanctions.
“Given the situation we’re now facing a nuclear-armed North Korea, maybe it is time for the United States to really take a look at this option,” said In-Bum Chun, a retired lieutenant general in the Republic of Korea Army and now is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Reintroducing tactical US nukes
“We’ve been saying that ‘all options are on the table,’ and maybe we should take a look at this in more detail,” the general said. “Maybe the United States might think that this is another situation where Korea having nuclear weapons, or reintroducing tactical U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea becomes an option.”
However, the retired South Korean military officer said that any discussion about Seoul getting its own nuclear weapons arsenal should first be done in Washington and should be started if it hasn’t already. Also, he said the assumption must be that if the North Koreans were to get rid of their nuclear weapons, so would the South Koreans (if they had them).
“The goal is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Chun said. “There is still hope for sanctions and other means to persuade North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons. So we need more time on this.”
The U.S. currently protects the security of South Korea with nuclear weapons that can be delivered via bombers and submarines. Some have suggested that with South Korea having its own nukes it could perhaps respond faster than the U.S.
In recent months, the U.S. has demonstrated its capability to strike the North by flying B-1B Lancer bombers over the Korean Peninsula.
“The U.S. could back South Korea up with nuclear weapons but that could be a very dangerous proposition, especially if China (its closest ally) were in the war,” said Corr, who has experience in military intelligence.
North Korea orders more ICBMs
On Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said its leader had ordered more intercontinental ballistic missiles. The regime test-fired two ICBMs last month, and data from the July 28 launch of a Hwasong-14 missile showed the weapon can reach half, if not most, of the continental U.S.
China’s semiofficial Global Times newspaper said in an op-ed this week that Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear and missile programs “posed security threats to the Asia-Pacific region. However, a hard-line attitude or military strikes against Pyongyang would only provoke the country to take retaliatory measures.”
If South Korea were to arm itself with nuclear weapons, China would likely protest and probably take the matter to the United Nations as a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which South Korea is a signatory but not North Korea.
Yet there also are concerns South Korea getting its own nukes could trigger a wider U.S.-China war because if Seoul were to use the weapons against North Korea, the regime’s longtime ally Beijing might respond with an attack of its own that might include targeting U.S. military bases in South Korea or the Asia-Pacific region.
Perhaps a hint of Beijing’s anger is its economic boycott against South Korea for allowing the deployment of the U.S.-supplied THAAD anti-missile shield, which China claims allows the U.S. and South Korea to look deep into China to monitor military activities.
“I think South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons is possible, but unlikely,” said James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Seoul could face sanctions
Acton said it’s understandable there’s uneasiness from South Koreans watching their neighbor to the north develop nuclear weapons, but added that there’s still not been a serious debate about the costs of acquiring nuclear weapons. “If there was a very serious discussion of the costs, I think you would find much less support for nuclear weapons,” he said.
For instance, Acton said if South Korea were to arm itself with nuclear weapons it would a violation of the country’s international commitments, which means Seoul “would be very likely to have serious sanctions imposed on it.” Also, he said the U.S. might decide to no longer offer its own security commitments to South Korea.
“The costs to South Korea of acquiring nuclear weapons are actually very, very high,” said Acton. “For South Korea, a country that’s become successful through international trade and engagement, the sanctions would be incredibly painful and damaging.”
Back in the 1970s, South Korean President Park Chung-hee secretly began a nuclear weapons development program. Once the U.S. learned about it, the U.S. pressured Seoul to halt the program. As was the case then, it remains U.S. policy to oppose the spread of nuclear explosives in the region.
At the same time, another option is the U.S. could redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea. But doing so would violate the 1992 Seoul-Pyongyang joint agreement on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang violated its end of the agreement in 2006 when it exploded its first nuclear device under Kim Jong Il, father of the regime’s current young leader.
Also, bringing back tactical weapons to South Korea could make the U.S. perhaps an even bigger target of North Korea and its communist neighbor, China. Pyongyang recently threatened to lob ballistic missiles toward U.S. military bases on the Pacific territory of Guam, which hosts the Air Force’s B-1B bombers and a Navy submarine base.
Reliability of security guarantees
“For as long as U.S. security guarantees are reliable, I don’t think South Korea has any need at this time for nuclear weapons,” said Acton. “The U.S. has pledged to defend South Korea, including if necessary with the use of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”
That said, South Korea has “serious concerns about the reliability of those guarantees under President Donald Trump,” Acton said. He said Trump has done “a lot to disrupt the U.S.-South Korean relationship — and I think it’s very important that the disruption stop.”
Experts say the areas where Washington has strained the alliance include Trump’s threat to terminate a “horrible” trade deal with South Korea as well as suggestions in April by the president that Seoul should pay $1 billion for the THAAD (or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile defense system.
Also, Trump suggested on the presidential campaign trail that South Korea should pay more money for its own defense, even suggesting that if it doesn’t he would be prepared to yank the roughly 28,000 U.S. forces stationed on the peninsula. And after he took office some allies became nervous since Trump was seen as slow to support NATO’s Article 5, the collective defense clause of the alliance.
“Donald Trump’s statements about allies needing to pay their fair share and his hesitation about whether the United States would back up NATO’s Article 5 commitment … has all given people in South Korea greater anxiety about the American military commitment to help protect South Korea,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy group
According to Kimball, the introduction of nuclear weapons into South Korea, either by the U.S. or by South Korea pursuing its own indigenous nuclear program, would have far more negative consequences than some people might otherwise think.
“It would further solidify North Korea’s commitment to keep its own nuclear weapons and initiate an arms race in East Asia involving China and South Korea that would not be necessarily stable,” said Kimball. “The allure of South Korean nuclear weapons on the superficial level is understandable, but you look at the consequences and they would cause much greater insecurity for South Korea than they would provide security.”

The Antichrist and the Saudis

Moqtada Al-Sadr And Saudi Arabia— The New Allies
Featured image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (R) meets with Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah, on July 30. (Saudi Royal Court)
The prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and influential political leader Moqtada Al-Sadr visited Saudi Arabia on July 30 for the first time after 11 years. Al-Sadr, who is categorized amongst the hardliners in Iraq, met the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohamed bin Salman Al-Saud. According to official statements and reports, Saudi Arabia invited Al-Sadr— and the latter, accepted the invitation. It is not a coincidence that Al-Sadr visited the kingdom while Saudi forces have besieged the Shia town of Awamiya for more than three months killing and displacing hundreds while demolishing homes, buildings and infrastructures, turning the place to a war zone.
Al-Sadr in Saudi Arabia
On his arrival, Al-Sadr was greeted by Arab Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan. He was former ambassador to Iraq—whose statements deteriorated the fragile relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Instead of maintaining diplomacy in a country stirred up by sectarian tensions, Al-Sabhan appeared in a televised interview claiming that sectarianism and tribalism were behind the Iraqi government’s arming volunteer forces fighting against ISIL. He sought to diminish the influence of Shia politicians in Iraq and held strong views against Popular Mobilization Forces fighting against ISIL. Last year, Al-Sabhan wrote:
“There are Iranian terrorists near Fallujah [in Iraq]. This is a clear evidence that they want to burn Iraqis with the fires of abhorrent sectarianism, and of their intent to change the demography.”
There was no concrete evidence of Iranian militants anywhere near Fallujah where Iraqi army and mobilization forces’ volunteers were at the frontiers fighting against ISIL. However, Al-Sabhan’s statements played on the emotions of Arab nationalists who are alarmed by Iranian influence in Iraq. He also instigated sectarianism and fear by leaving people of Fallujah terrified of the Iraqi forces aiming to liberate them from ISIL. Last year in August, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry officially asked its Saudi counterparts to replace Al-Sabhan.
“The presence of Al-Sabhan is an obstacle to the development of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmad Jamal, foreign ministry’s spokesperson, in televised comments.
Al-Sabhan was the right person in the right place when receiving Al-Sadr. He received and greeted the only Shia cleric armed with a militia in Iraq. Winning Al-Sadr to their side, Saudi Arabia would give a message to the West that Iranian influence would be diminished if armed Al-Sadr loyalists would turn against Iran and its allies. While Al-Sadr’s movement includes Saraya Al-Salam (Al-Sadr’s militia) on the ground, it is also represented by politicians and members of parliament. Upon his return to Iraq, Al-Sadr called to dissolve the Popular Mobilization Forces— a wish that was always expressed by Saudi Arabia through its former ambassador Al-Sabhan. It is ironic that Al-Sadr seeks to dissolve armed forces endorsed by the Iraqi government, while maintaining his militias.
To his political movement, loyalists and militiamen, Al-Sadr is the unquestionable religious icon. Responding to backlash, Al-Sadr’s supporters told Iraqi media organizations and outraged human rights activists that their leader was going to persuade the Saudi government to halt their attacks on Awamiya and stop the war on Yemen. Upon his return to Iraq, Al-Sadr didn’t mention any talks regarding the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Awamiya or Yemen.
Al-Sadr’s office released a statement identifying what the cleric and Saudi officials talked about during meetings. “His Imminence discussed ways to strengthen the relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Iraq,” according to Al-Sadr’s office statement following the rare visit. The office announced that both Al-Sadr and the Crown Prince share the same views on a number of issues. The visit and meetings produced a number of outcomes that were mentioned in the statement.
The meeting with the Crown Prince
Regardless of the outcomes and the shared views, Bin Salman received Al-Sadr in, what appeared to be in the photo, a small room. Unlike other official meetings, the Crown Prince didn’t wear his cloak or what’s known in Arabic as Basht. Upon meeting world leaders, prominent politicians and influential clerics, a prince is expected to be at his finest appearance— wearing Basht is part of that. Failing to do so would be disrespectful to the guest. Not wearing a Basht intentionally and inviting the guest to a room for the talks rather than the luxurious reception would be interpreted as a deliberate act of disrespect in the tribal traditions of the Arabs. On the other hand, Al-Sadr was well dressed for the meeting. This leaves me wondering if Mohamed bin Salman’s gestures with Al-Sadr were deliberate. If that was the case, he didn’t treat Al-Sadr as an equal leader to him, but rather Saudi Arabia’s man in the region. Another interpretation could be that Mohamed bin Salman and Al-Sadr decided to be close to each other building the bonds of brotherly friendship, and thus, there was no need for him to maintain the Arab traditions of receiving the foreign guest.
The outcomes of the visit, meetings and talks were numerous. According to Al-Sadr’s office, Saudi Arabia would offer another $10 million to “help the displaced through the Iraqi government.” Both parties also agreed on the importance of Saudi investments in Iraq and facilitating the “development” of the south and the centre. The southern and central regions of Iraq are of Shia majority.
Escalating conflicts and human rights violations
Al-Sadr’s supporters claimed that their leader would reach to an outcome that would help deescalate the bloody conflict in Yemen and help Shia minority in Awamiya in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. However, the humanitarian crisis in Awamiya has worsened since Al-Sadr’s visit. According to media reports, residents in Awamiya are running out of drinking water and electricity has been cut off. While several were killed in Awamiya besiege, 14 men have recently been sentenced to death for participating in demonstrations.
Unrest, Saudi forces attacks and raids on Awamiyahave been common since the January 2016 execution of local Shia cleric and leader Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr. Saudi forces shot unarmed Al-Nimr in his car and arrested him in 2012. Suffering from serious injuries, Al-Nimr was subjected to unfair trial and faced execution in the form of beheading. From 2012 until his execution in 2016, Al-Nimr was in solitary confinement most of the time.
Beheading an influential respected Shia religious leader in Awamiya drove many of the adherents of the faith to protest in the streets in several parts of the region— including Baghdad where most of Al-Sadr supporters are active. Last year, they also participated in the demonstrations and denounced the Saudi monarchy holding banners saying “death to Al-Saud.”
Al-Sadr’s message changed, but Saudi Arabia’s discrimination against its Shia minority in Awamiya is unlikely to change. Meeting with Al-Sadr will not only change his movement’s message towards Saudi Arabia from hostility to friendliness, but aims to whitewash Saudi authorities in the eyes of its international critics. Receiving a prominent Shia cleric gives the impression that the ongoing attacks on Shia minority in Saudi Arabia is not based on systematic discrimination, but on the authorities claims of maintaining national security.
The consulate in Najaf
Najaf is one of the holiest cities for all Shias. It’s the home for the Shia’s first disciple and the cousin of the Prophet, Imam Ali. It’s the city where the most prestigious Shia religious schools have been established since hundreds of years ago. All of the adherents of the Shia faith, with its several schools of thought, regard the city as the heart of their spirituality. Millions of pilgrims visit the shrine of Imam Ali from all over the world.
After the meeting with Mohamed Bin Salman and other Saudi officials, Al-Sadr’s office stated that there would be a Saudi consulate in Najaf. Although looking at the suggestion superficially the intention seems to be to strengthen the Saudi relations with Iraqi government, there is more to that. It’s not a coincidence that Najaf was chosen. This would give Saudi Arabia the opportunity to crackdown on Shia opposition in the gulf countries while using religious authorities like Al-Sadr on their side. Al-Sadr left to Iraq, and Saudi bulldozers flattened Awamiya, terrorizing people and forcing hundreds to flee.
The Holy City of Najaf is also the spiritual destiny of Yemeni’s Houthis who practice Zaidi faith— a branch of Shia Islam. Yemen has been torn apart by civil war, in which Saudi Arabia is one of its most powerful sides. Saudi led airstrikes and attacks continue to deepen the deteriorating humanitarian crisis that has become the worst in recent history. According to UNICEF’s report on February 21, 4,000 civilians have died as a direct result of the conflict, including 1,332 children. Reports confirm that at least 100,000 have been killed through famine and worst outbreak of cholera, while 70 percent of the population relies on humanitarian aid. In addition to the war crimes, Saudi Arabia is also accused of obstructing the delivery of fuel to UN planes that are used to bring aid. Western governments face a backlash for selling arms to Saudi Arabia that have been used to commit serious human rights violations.
Whether in Iraq, Yemen or Awamiya, Al-Sadr’s visit has its ripples that will create destructive tides in the region. Saudi Arabia has won a Shia leader, whose supporters are going to use Arab nationalist sentiments to turn adherents of the faith against each other using claims of Iran’s influence in the region.

Korea is not a Shia Horn (Daniel 8:8)

Tillerson Suggests North Korea May Soon Be Ready for Talks

Gardiner Harris and Eileen Sullivan

A military parade celebrating the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, in Pyongyang in April. Wong Maye-E/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In some of the most conciliatory remarks to North Korea made by the Trump administration, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson complimented the government in Pyongyang for going more than two weeks without shooting any missiles or blowing up any nuclear bombs.
“I’m pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint,” Mr. Tillerson said, suggesting that the brief pause in testing may be enough to meet the administration’s preconditions for talks.
“We hope that this is the beginning of the signal we’ve been looking for,” he said, adding that “perhaps we’re seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future of having some dialogue. We need to see more on their part. But I want to acknowledge the steps they’ve taken so far.”
That was the carrot. As for the stick, the Trump administration announced new sanctions against China and Russia on Tuesday as part of its campaign to pressure North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
The two moves are part of the Trump administration’s dual-track strategy for taming the nuclear threat from North Korea — ratcheting up economic pressure on the government through sanctions while simultaneously offering a diplomatic pathway to peace.
That second approach has gradually softened in recent months. In his first trip to Seoul, South Korea, in March, Mr. Tillerson appeared to make North Korea’s surrender of nuclear weapons a prerequisite for talks. At that time, he said that negotiations could “only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction,” and that “only then will we be prepared to engage them in talks.”
In recent months, he has suggested that Pyongyang only had to demonstrate that it was serious about a new path before talks could begin, suggesting that a significant pause in the country’s provocative activities would be enough. And three weeks ago, he went out of his way to assure the North’s leaders “the security they seek.”
Then, a little more than two weeks ago, the United Nations Security Council passed its toughest sanctions yet against North Korea. And the next day, Mr. Tillerson met with his counterparts in South Korea and China in an effort to increase pressure on Pyongyang.
The United Nations sanctions were already starting to have an impact curtailing trade in China and infuriating Chinese seafood importers, who had to return goods to North Korea.
Mr. Tillerson’s remarks Tuesday were particularly noteworthy because they were made in a news conference that was otherwise devoted to discussing the Trump administration’s new approach to the war in Afghanistan.


Can North Korea Actually Hit the United States With a Nuclear Weapon?

Six systems that North Korea needs to master to achieve a long-sought goal: being able to reliably hit the United States.
OPEN Graphic
There is fierce debate in the administration over what course to take with North Korea — and whether a combination of diplomatic outreach and military threats would change North Korea’s current direction. Tension between the United States and North Korea has escalated over North Korea’s recent missile tests. Most intelligence assessments have concluded that the North has no incentive to begin negotiations until it demonstrates, even more conclusively than it has in recent weeks, that its nuclear weapon could reach the United States mainland.
But Mr. Tillerson’s diplomatic outreach has been repeatedly undercut by President Trump’s bellicose rhetoric, including a threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangered the United States.
The new sanctions issued by the Treasury Department affect six individuals and 10 organizations with financial ties to Pyongyang’s weapons program. They represent a gradual increase in pressure on China, which has long frustrated the United States for economically supporting the regime in Pyongyang. Some 90 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China.
“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday.
In June, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank, a Chinese company and two Chinese citizens to crack down on the financing of North Korea’s weapons program, the first set of secondary sanctions against North Korea that directly targeted Chinese intermediaries.
“I think it’s a significant action by the Trump administration,” Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit group in Washington, said of the new round of sanctions.
Tuesday’s actions appeared to be part of a larger campaign to pressure individuals, businesses and countries with financial ties to North Korea, said Mr. Ruggiero, a former official in the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the Treasury. “It looks like the beginnings of a broad pressure campaign,” Mr. Ruggiero said.
Among the Chinese companies sanctioned on Tuesday is Mingzheng International Trading Limited, considered by the Treasury Department to be a “front company” for North Korea’s state-run Foreign Trade Bank, which has been subject to American sanctions since 2013.
In June, United States prosecutors accused Mingzheng of laundering money for North Korea and announced that the Justice Department would seek $1.9 million in civil penalties.
The new United States sanctions address how other nations tolerate North Korea’s behavior, particularly China, said Elizabeth Rosenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
“These sanctions expand the U.S. blacklist for companies tied to North Korea’s economic activity and are designed to curb the hard currency available to Pyongyang,” Ms. Rosenberg said in an email. “I think we should expect more sanctions of this nature, including more designations to highlight the role of China to enable North Korea’s illicit aims.”