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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
A U.S. State Department official will travel to Southeast Asia between October 9 and 12 in order to push for the full implementation of UN sanctions and continued pressure against North Korea in the pursuit of denuclearization, the State Department said on Monday.
Christopher A. Ford, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, will be visiting Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand on the three-day trip, with North Korea being the primary focus, according to the statement.
While in Singapore, Ford will “emphasize the importance of counterproliferation and the DPRK pressure campaign, and the need for full implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and sanctions,” the statement read.
Similarly, discussions in Vietnam will cover “a range of topics including the United States’ continued commitment to upholding UN Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea, implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).”
Monday’s statement further reiterated the point, saying that Ford will be focusing specifically on affirming cooperation from the Thai government in countering North Koreas illicit proliferation activities “as part of the DPRK pressure campaign”.
Southeast Asian countries – including Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand – have been referenced in recent reports by a UN Panel of Experts (PoE) tasked with monitoring UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions implementation in relation to breaches of existing resolutions.
All three countries are mentioned in the panel’s 2018 report and remain jurisdictions of concern. More recently in July, a Singaporean national at the center of an NK Pro investigation last year was charged with 161 counts relating to United Nations North Korea luxury goods sanctions.
In 2017 amid consistent North Korean WMD testing, the U.S. embarked on what it called the “maximum pressure” campaign, which resulted in increased North Korean diplomatic isolation and the expansion of unilateral and multilateral sanctions against the country.
In contrast, 2018 has represented a year of diplomatic engagement by North Korea, with multiple summits between the DPRK, China, and South Korea taking place, as well as an absence of ballistic missile or nuclear tests.
The first summit between the U.S. and North Korea was also held on June 12 in Singapore, and a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump is currently being discussed.
Despite this, U.S. officials have continued to stress that sanctions must remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes, with Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voicing this position at the UN in September.
North Korea, on the other hand, has also increasingly been calling for sanctions to be dropped as it sees them as a source of mistrust and an impediment to diplomatic progress.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury after a relative lull this year has also continued to add unilateral designations involving entities and nationals from third countries over ongoing trade with the DPRK.
In the most recent designations, which targeted Turkish nationals and a Turkish firm, the Secretary of the Treasury reiterated the U.S. stance.
“The United States is deeply committed to the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, and will continue to enforce and implement sanctions until that time,” Steven Mnuchin said.
Also on Monday, following a visit to Beijing by Pompeo, the State Department said that the U.S. and China were “unified” on the pressure campaign against the DPRK despite indications to the contrary.