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Multi-pronged approach to pressure North Korea

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White House mulling over new sanctions to counter Pyongyang's nuclear threat

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threat, said a senior US official.

The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure - especially on Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with North Korea - plus beefed-up defences by the US and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official who is familiar with the deliberations.

The policy recommendations being assembled by President Donald Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster are expected to reach the President's desk within weeks, possibly before a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House declined to comment.

The administration source said US officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, had privately warned China about broader "secondary sanctions", which would target banks and other companies that do business with North Korea - most of which are Chinese.

It was not clear how Chinese officials responded to those warnings, but Beijing had earlier expressed its strong opposition to such moves.

The US objective would be to tighten the screws in the same way that the widening of sanctions - to encompass foreign firms dealing with Iran - was used to pressure Teheran to open negotiations with the West on its suspected nuclear weapons programme.

For such measures to have any chance of influencing North Korea, which is already under heavy sanctions, Washington must secure full international cooperation - especially from China, which has shown little appetite for putting such a squeeze on its neighbour.

Analysts also have questioned whether such sanctions would be as effective on North Korea as they were on a major oil producer such as Iran, given the isolated nation's limited links to the world financial system.

Underscoring the growing nuclear threat, North Korea's uranium enrichment facility has doubled in size over the past few years, the United Nation's atomic watchdog chief has warned.

"The situation is very bad... It has gone into a new phase," Mr Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told the Wall Street Journal in a report published on Monday. - REUTERS, AFP

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