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New North Korea Sanctions Team Formed

Updated 4:28 p.m.
By Michael D. Shear and Glenn Kessler
The White House is ramping up its efforts to enforce sanctions against North Korea by forming a new interagency team to coordinate U.S. actions with other nations, senior administration officials said today.

The new team will be led by former ambassador to Bolivia Philip S. Goldberg, who is slated to leave for China in the near future as the U.S seeks concerted action to stop the North Korean regime from developing nuclear weapons.

"There is a broad consensus about the need to have a focused and engaged effort to see that these sanctions are implemented ... and that we're sharing information with each other," one official said, speaking on background.

U.S. officials described the new group as a way to focus the administration more squarely on implementation of the latest sanctions, which were approved by the United Nations in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test last month.

The officials said they are hoping the group -- with representatives from the State Department, the White House, the National Security Agency, Treasury and others -- will help "shine a spotlight" on the actions of the regime.

"We wanted somebody who woke up every morning and thought about nothing but sanctions implementation," one official said. "It's a huge difference when you have somebody who isn't worried about any of the other aspects of this."

The White House also announced a renewed effort to use the authority of the U.N. resolution to take financial actions against the North Korean regime in an effort to choke off the money flowing from small arms trade and other activity.

Treasury officials have issued a public memorandum to private financial institutions reminding them of the global condemnation and other risks of doing business with the North Korean regime.

The letter warns that North Korean banks and institutions often use deceptive techniques to engage in financial transactions that could place legitimate financial firms at risk.

"Financial institutions should apply enhanced scrutiny to any such correspondent accounts they maintain, including with respect to transaction monitoring," the letter states.

One senior official said the U.S. is confident that the financial sanctions will over time help to further isolate North Korea and pressure its leaders to abandon its nuclear program.

"It's going to take time to have a bite," he conceded. "But we're trying to get out of the box quickly."

The Bush administration also had a sustained effort to implement United Nations sanctions after North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006.

The Counterproliferation Directorate of the White House National Security Council coordinated the effort, while the State Department and Treasury also co-chaired an interagency effort to examine specific cases that eventually worked their way up the chain for approval.

A team of senior officials, led by the undersecretary of State for arms control, traveled to Asia to work closely with allies. But the effort was dropped after Bush shifted course and decided to pursue diplomacy with North Korea.

Posted at 11:36 AM ET on Jun 26, 2009  | Category:  National Security
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