Obama Widens North Korea Sanctions on Nuclear Funding

President Barack Obama widened U.S. financial sanctions on North Korea today in an effort to cut off sources of income that fund the nuclear weapons program of the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Il.

The U.S. will freeze the assets of four North Koreans, three of the country’s companies and five government agencies suspected of “illicit and deceptive activities” that support the regime’s weapons industry, according to an executive order posted on the Treasury Department’s website.

Those blacklisted bought luxury goods on behalf of the regime and are suspected of drug trafficking, money laundering and currency counterfeiting, the U.S. said.

Two of the blacklisted individuals, Ri Hong-Sop and Ri Je-Son, are identified as officials at the General Bureau of Atomic Energy, which oversees North Korea’s nuclear program. The three companies cited are Korea Taesong Trading Co., Green Pine Associated Corp. and the Korea Heungjin Trading Co. The government organizations include the Munitions Industry Department and the Second Economic Committee.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned last month that the U.S. would intensify sanctions against North Korea for torpedoing a South Korean warship in March. The new sanctions, targeting government officials and the companies connected to the North Korean nuclear program, aim to choke the flow of foreign currency and push Kim to resume disarmament talks.

Warship Sinking

The U.S. has backed South Korean claims that North Korea was responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26. North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack, which killed 46 sailors. China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, has refrained from naming Kim’s regime as the culprit.

The North Korean regime has been under pressure because of tightened sanctions, shriveling trade amid increased international isolation, food shortages and a botched currency reform last year.

The six-party talks -- which involve North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. -- have been stalled since North Korea walked out in April last year and then conducted its second nuclear-weapon test a month later.

Kim, who met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Aug. 27 in Changchun, said he hoped for an early resumption of the international talks to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Xinhua News Agency reported today.