By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2010; 11:17 PM
The White House announced Monday it is hitting North Korea with sanctions aimed at providers of weapons, luxury goods and various illicit financial services that benefit the elite in the closed communist country.
The administration had previously said it would strengthen sanctions on Pyongyang in response to the March sinking of a South Korean warship, an attack that U.S. officials have blamed on North Korea.
But the announcement came just days after former president Jimmy Carter visited North Korea and won the release of an American activist, raising speculation about a possible thaw between Washington and Pyongyang.
The new sanctions sent a different signal.
They "are early evidence the administration is not about to drop pressure and choose a path of engagement alone with North Korea," said Michael Green, who was a senior Asian affairs official in the George W. Bush administration.
"In many respects, what's happening is the Obama administration is going back to the hard-line Bush approach to North Korea that Democrats had criticized," said Green, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The executive order signed by President Obama on Monday targets people and companies involved with selling arms to North Korea, providing it with luxury goods, and assisting the country's authorities with money laundering, counterfeiting and narcotics trafficking.
The entities named included Office 39 of the Korean Workers' Party, which helps top North Korean officials through "illicit economic activities and managing the leadership's slush funds," according to a fact sheet from the Treasury Department.
The other entities named are involved in North Korea's conventional arms trade, it said. They are the Reconnaissance General Bureau and Green Pine Associated Corp.
Stuart Levey, a senior Treasury official, told reporters that other entities could be named later under the sanctions.
"The effect of this is potentially global in application," if foreign firms are found to be helping North Korea in illicit activities, he said.
The sanctions would freeze any of those targets' U.S. assets, and make it illegal for American companies to do business with such firms.
The United Nations has already banned trade in conventional arms and luxury goods to North Korea, but the executive order signed by Obama strengthens the penalties involved, officials said. A senior State Department arms-control official, Robert Einhorn, told reporters that the administration still hoped to resume negotiations with North Korea on dismantling its nuclear-arms program.
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il, said during a recent visit to China that he hoped to soon resume the six-party negotiations that broke off in April 2009, according to official media there.
But the sanctions announcement would complicate the relaunch of talks, said Selig S. Harrison, a Korea expert at the Center for International Policy.
"This is exactly the wrong time to be making that process more difficult," he said. "What we have learned in the last 50 years is that North Korea's response to pressure is to retaliate, not to succumb."
The talks, which also include South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, were halted when the North walked out. It carried out its second nuclear-weapons test the following month.
The Obama administration also announced Monday that it had added five more North Korean entities and three individuals to a list of those sanctioned under a previous executive order aimed at people supporting the country's nuclear program.