U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday downplayed countries breaking sanctions, telling Fox News that the restrictions on North Korea remained effective.
The comments come following a U.S. report to the UN which claimed that North Korea continued to violate international sanctions aimed at limiting the DPRK’s oil imports.
“Everybody tries to break sanctions, but the sanctions are hurting them badly … We never took the sanctions off,” Trump said.
The U.S. president also reiterated that relations with Pyongyang had improved, citing the lack of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles tests.
“You don’t see that now. You don’t see it now. We’re in a much different position … I’m in no rush. We’ll take it nice and easy.”
Washington has taken a publicly relaxed stance over the recent provocations from North Korea, even as Pyongyang tested two short-range missiles in May.
But Trump and other high-level staffers in Washington said the launches would not affect negotiations with North Korea, nor did they trigger any additional unilateral sanctions.
However, the U.S. did seize a North Korean cargo ship which was involved in smuggling coal in breach of UN resolutions prohibiting the DPRK from exporting most of its raw materials.
Coal and oil smuggling are currently two of the North’s major sanctions breaking operations, with the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noting in their most recent report how incidences of prohibited cargo transfers at sea rose sharply last year.
And despite Trump’s remarks that the sanctions are damaging the North’s economy, recent NK Pro analysis indicates that oil may be as available in the DPRK as it was prior to the current sanctions regime.
Chinese crude oil exports to North Korea publicly revealed for the first time in years remain unchanged from presanctions levels, exactly in line with Beijing’s historical support of approximately 500,000 tonnes per year.
When combined with Washington’s own estimates for smuggled oil products, North Korea’s oil import picture looks very similar to its previous equivalents, though the DPRK is certainly paying a premium for the illegal delivery of oil at sea.
“The United States and its partners remain gravely concerned about the degree of UN Security Council resolution violations that are occurring in relation to North Korea’s import of refined petroleum products,” the U.S. report presented to the UN reads, according to AFP.
The document reportedly noted that North Korea conducted 70 ship-to-ship transfers in the first quarter of 2019, continuing a trend of frequent off-books oil deliveries.
If the U.S. estimates are accurate, they signal that North Korea may have successfully eroded one of the pillars of Washington’s maximum pressure campaign.