(CNSNews.com) – Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night accused President Trump of having “weakened” sanctions against the North Korean regime – a claim not borne out by the record.
During the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic presidential debate, Biden was asked whether he would meet with Kim Jong Un “without preconditions.”
“President Trump has met with Kim Jong Un three times,” said CNN’s Abby Phillip. “President Obama once said he would meet with North Korea without any preconditions. Would you meet with North Korea without any preconditions?”
“No, not now,” Biden replied. “I wouldn’t meet with them without any preconditions. Look, we gave him everything he’s looking for – legitimacy. The president showed up, met with him, gave him legitimacy, weakened the sanctions we have against him.”
In fact, both U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions targeting Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have been ratcheted up since Trump took office.
Just hours before the debate in Iowa, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a North Korean trading company and a Chinese company for violating Security Council restrictions on North Korean laborers working abroad. (The 2017 UNSC resolution said the regime uses the earnings generated by the workers to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.)
Trump has indeed met with the North Korean dictator three times – summits in Singapore in June 2018 and Hanoi last February, and a meeting at the DMZ dividing the two Koreas – but his refusal to ease sanctions has remained consistent.
Trump’s critics have accused him of a range of perceived failings in his dealings with North Korea, from his assertions that he “likes” Kim to his agreement to suspend some joint military exercises with South Korea as a goodwill gesture.
His stance on sanctions, however, gave critics little room to take issue with. Although at times he indicated a willingness to ease sanctions, saying for instance that he would “love to be able to” do so, he linked that with “meaningful” denuclearization steps on Kim’s part. Trump and top administration officials have emphasized time and again that sanctions remain in force.
The Hanoi summit collapsed largely over the issue. Before he flew out of the Vietnamese capital, Trump told reporters Kim had wanted all of the sanctions removed. Although North Korea disputed that, saying it had only pressed for “partial” sanctions relief, the issue of sanctions was clearly a key factor in the meeting’s abrupt ending.
In a New Year address two months earlier, Kim had warned that continuing U.S. sanctions may force him to “find a new way” to defend North Korea’s sovereignty.
Russia, China object
The Trump administration has drawn repeated criticism over its refusal to budge on sanctions – not only from the regime in Pyongyang but also from its major economic and diplomatic partners, Russia and China.
Over the course of 2018 and 2019, Moscow and Beijing pushed a number of times for UNSC sanctions to be watered down, and each time the U.S. opposed the effort.
As recently as last month, Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia was again complaining during a UNSC meeting about Washington’s “excessive use” of sanctions, and arguing that North Korea “needs incentives to cooperate.”
A list of some relevant actions follows:
--Aug. 2017: Trump signs the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act, which prohibits some forms of U.S. assistance to foreign governments which aid North Korea (as well as Iran and Russia.)
--Aug. 2017: The UNSC adopts resolution 2371, tightening sanctions and targeting coal and iron exports, after the regime’s two ICBM launches.
--Sept. 2017: Trump in an executive order authorizes the Treasury Department to block from the U.S. financial system any foreign business or individual facilitating trade with North Korea.
“Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that, going forward, they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at the time.
--Sept. 2017: The UNSC passes resolution 2375, further tightening restrictions, following a nuclear test – the sixth since 2006 and the largest to date.
--Nov. 2017: Trump announces he is returning North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, nine years after President George W. Bush lifted the designation.
--Dec. 2017: The UNSC passes resolution 2397, targeting North Korean oil imports, and metal and labor exports.
--Sept. 2018: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley rules out an easing of sanctions as demanded by Russia and China, telling the Security Council that until the regime denuclearizes, “we must not ease the powerful worldwide sanctions that are in place.” (She also accuses Russia of “actively working to undermine” the enforcement of sanctions, despite having voted for them in the Security Council.)
--June 2019: A Department of Defense report on Indo-Pacific strategy reiterates that “[u]ntil North Korea clearly and unambiguously makes the strategic decision to take steps to denuclearize, the United States will continue to enforce all applicable domestic and international sanctions …”
--Dec. 2019: Trump signs the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, whose provisions include sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s iron, coal, textile, and seafood industries, and banks that do business with North Korea.