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North Korea sanctions: Are they meaningless?

Secretary of State Clinton announced new North Korea sanctions Wednesday, but many experts doubt the measures will persuade North Korea to resume talks over its nuclear program.

By Staff Writer / July 21, 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates look at the North Korea using binoculars at a guard post in Camp Oulette near the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, north of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday.

Korea Pool/AP



US sanctions on North Korea unveiled Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may sound like a move in the right direction: hurting the pariah state’s elites by targeting illicit and lucrative activities like counterfeiting and contraband sales.

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But the measures are unlikely to produce the desired effect of coaxing Pyongyang back to stalled international talks on its nuclear program, some North Korea experts say. The moves resemble piecemeal steps of the past, they add, and are unlikely to strike where it hurts: the regime’s access to under-the-table international funds.

“If I were in Pyongyang, I would not be trembling in my boots about this,” says Nick Eberstadt, a North Korea specialist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Secretary Clinton, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, announced the measures while on a visit to South Korea intended to show US resolve toward the North. The trip was also meant to show support for the South in the aftermath of the deadly attack in April on a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan. Washington and Seoul blame Pyongyang for the attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors. The North denies responsibility.

Clinton and Secretary Gates included a visit to the De-Militarized Zone, 30 miles north of Seoul in their stopover, touring a building in a so-called “truce village” that straddles the north-south border.

At one point, curious North Korean soldiers peered through the building’s windows at the high-profile American visitors – a surreal juxtaposition, given that the sanctions that Clinton announced are designed in part to hit the North’s powerful military.

Clinton provided only a broad overview on the new steps against the North that will target the arms sales and other activities that fund the regime, as well as the purchase and importation of luxury goods used to reward the regime’s elites in the military and other administrations. More North Korean officials will be hit with travel bans while asset freezes are to be expanded.

The US is also planning to step up collaboration with international banks to curtail the North’s money laundering – the one measure that analysts say holds out any real hope of influencing Pyongyang.