Trump announces heaviest sanctions on DPRK amid positive momentum on Korean peninsula

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States would launch the heaviest set of sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin speaks during an on camera briefing on the administration’s new sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 23, 2018 . 

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States would launch the heaviest set of sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"We imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before," Trump said in an address to a conservative activist group in the state of Maryland.

The new sanctions, the "largest-ever" package on the DPRK, will target 56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses, said senior Trump administration officials at a background briefing earlier in the day.

The penalty, which is part of the US campaign of "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang, will designate 27 companies, 28 ships and one person, according to a statement released by the US Treasury.

The Trump administration has engaged in "maximum pressure" against the DPRK since assuming office in early 2017 to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development program.

US Treasury Secretary Seven Mnuchin pledged on Friday that Washington will impose more punishment on Pyongyang.

"We will continue as we see things that should be sanctioned, I can assure you, we will continue to roll out new sanctions," Mnuchin said at a White House briefing.

Washington's latest move came amid the recent positive momentum on the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang and Seoul have embarked on an apparent rapprochement with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics over the past month.

US Vice President Mike Pence signaled these sanctions earlier this month, threatening to slap the "toughest and most aggressive" sanctions on the already weakened DPRK.

Some experts saw his harsh rhetoric before he visited the games in Pyeongchang as the main reason that led the DPRK to call off a scheduled February 10 meeting with Pence during the games.

The DPRK has sent its athletes, cheerleaders and a high-ranking delegation to Pyeongchang, showing its willingness to improve inter-Korean relations and ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also received the DPRK's top leader Kim Jong Un's invitation letter, asking him to visit Pyongyang at a convenient time, which opened a possibility for the third inter-Korean summit meeting.

The timing of Trump's sanctions announcement is also noteworthy, coming hours after Moon said it would be significant for Seoul and Washington to closely cooperate to enable the inter-Korean talks and the denuclearization talks to make progress together.

In hosting Trump's daughter, Ivanka, Moon noted that the joint efforts by Seoul and Washington to denuclearize the DPRK have failed for the past 25 years, saying the two countries must take the opportunity of the current dialogue mood.

Apart from the new US sanctions, looming US-South Korean annual military drills have been seen as a threat that may dampen the recently generated positive momentum.

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