The United States on Tuesday added two more companies to its lists of firms facing sanctions for allegedly aiding North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. The move cames as a senior U.S. envoy left Washington for Beijing on a mission aimed at getting China to help tighten the international financial squeeze on Pyongyang.
The Obama administration is imposing sanctions on two companies - one in North Korea and the other described as a North Korean front-company based in Iran - as it tries to persuade China and other Asian countries to do the same in order to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
The State Department said North Korea's Namchongang Trading Corporation was being targeted with a U.S. asset freeze and other penalties because of its role in acquiring aluminum tubes and other hardware that can be used for a uranium enrichment program.
At the same time, the U.S. Treasury Department said it is targeting Hong Kong Electronics, based in Iran's Kish Island free trade zone in the Persian Gulf. The firm is suspected of providing support for North Korean companies designated for sanctions under a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey said North Korea uses front companies like Hong Kong Electronics to obscure illegitimate transactions.
The Treasury Department says Hong Kong Electronics facilitated the movement of funds from Iran to a North Korean bank that is the financial arm for KOMID - a company identified as North Korea's main exporter of ballistic missile technology and equipment.
The new sanctions, among other things, freeze any U.S. assets the two companies might have and bar them from engaging in any transactions with American firms and individuals. It is unclear what effect the action will have, but it underlines the U.S. commitment to tighten North Korea sanctions as a U.S. envoy travels to Asia on the issue.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said newly-named envoy Philip Goldberg is on a trip to China and other Asian destinations to urge compliance with the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution approved earlier this month after North Korea's May 25 nuclear test - its second since 2006.
"Ambassador Philip Goldberg, Coordinator for Implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1874, today leads an inter-agency delegation - including representatives of the National Security Council and the Departments of Treasury and Defense to Beijing," said Ian Kelly. "His delegation will have meetings July 2nd and 3rd in Beijing with representative of Foreign Affairs and other ministries involved in the implementation of resolution 1874."
Kelly said Goldberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, would hold talks with other U.S. partners in the region, but that he had no details on the rest of Goldberg's itinerary.
Resolution 1874, which condemns the North Korean nuclear test, authorizes tightened sanctions aimed at cutting off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear, missile and proliferation activities.
On Monday, The New York Times reported that one of Goldberg's biggest challenges will be to persuade China - North Korea's biggest trading partner and aid provider - to be rigorous in enforcing the sanctions.
The newspaper said there was little evidence, based on trade figures, to suggest that China had gone forward with sanctions called for in the previous Security Council resolution.