Just weeks after North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is offering praise for Kim Jong-un for holding his fire since then, noting that it could be the "beginning" of a pathway to peace talks.
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The overture to the outlaw regime came on the same day that the U.S. slapped Chinese and Russian individuals and companies with third-party sanctions for doing business with North Korea.
"I'm pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we've not seen in the past. We hope that this is the beginning of this signal we’ve been looking for," Tillerson said.
The nation’s top diplomat seemed to be trying to encourage North Korea to stay on the path, later noting that "We need to see more on their part."
In particular, Tillerson seemed to credit the unanimous adoption of a UN Security Council resolution on August 5 that target North Korea's revenue sources -- coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, seafood, and the country's guest worker program. Since then, they haven't engaged in "missile launches or provocative acts," he said.
"They are ready to restrain their level of tensions, they are ready to restrain their provocative acts, and then perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the early future having some dialogue," he added.
It has only been two and a half weeks since those sanctions passed – and just three and a half weeks since North Korea's latest missile launch, a second ICBM capable of hitting the continental United States.
In the interim, all signs indicate the secretive country is plowing full steam ahead on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, while engaging in a fiery war of words with President Trump. Trump promised to reign down "fire and fury" on the country if it continues to threaten the U.S. Kim's regime responded with threats to fire ICBM's into the waters surrounding Guam, the U.S. territory in the west Pacific that's home to over 160,000 Americans.
After a week of tension, the two sides both blinked -- Trump responding to the provocative rhetoric from Pyongyang with only verbal arrows of his own; while Kim Jong-un said he would watch the U.S.'s actions before taking any next steps.
The Trump administration is also staying on course for its "peaceful pressure" campaign against the country by ramping up the costs for China and Russia.
The Treasury Department announced new sanctions against 10 entities and six individuals for violating UN sanctions on North Korea and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The move blocks their access to U.S. markets and banks, freezes any assets they have in American jurisdiction, and sends a warning for others not to do business with them as well.
"It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a paper statement. "We are taking actions consistent with UN sanctions to show that there are consequences for defying sanctions and providing support to North Korea, and to deter this activity in the future."
Today's list includes three Chinese coal companies and one of their directors; two Chinese companies and one individual who supported North Korean worker programs overseas, including in Namibia; three Russian executives and two Singapore-based companies for trading oil; one Chinese front company for North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank; and one Chinese company and one Russian company and its executive for trading minerals.
These new slaps on the Russians and Chinese come after both countries helped pass the new UN Security Council sanctions earlier this month, and were showered with praise by Tillerson, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and others for their support.
But the U.S. argued even then it maintains the right to use third-party sanctions to ensure the countries followed through.
"The implementation is something that we’ll be tracking and taking action on as necessary," Susan Thornton told reporters in Manila days after the UN vote. "If we see that they are not being implemented, then we will again continue to go after those entities ourselves."