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What Do New Sanctions On North Korea Accomplish?


I want to turn for a few minutes to North Korea, which said today that it might test a hydrogen bomb for the first time. They're threatening to do this over the Pacific Ocean. And this threat comes as President Trump announced new economic sanctions on North Korea, the strongest to date. This executive order gives the Treasury Department the authority to target any foreign bank that knowingly conducts or facilitates trade tied to North Korea.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea's efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind.

GREENE: All right. In a statement last night, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, called President Trump mentally deranged and a frightened dog. And he vowed that he would tame President Trump with fire. Let's talk to Suzanne DiMaggio. She's director of the think tank New America. And she has held talks with North Korean officials as recently as this year. Welcome back to our program.

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Glad to be with you, David.

GREENE: So would you say President Trump's efforts to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, is that effort working here?

DIMAGGIO: Well, there are some indications that the sanctions are having some impact, but we know sanctions take time. But more importantly, the sanctions are not having any effect on the behavior of the North Korean leadership. And they certainly are not slowing down the North Korean nuclear program. As we've seen, Pyongyang is steadily accelerating its progress on its nuclear missiles program in the face of increased sanctions. And we shouldn't expect these additional sanctions to stop North Korea from conducting more tests.

GREENE: OK. So you say that they're working but not in the way that that the administration would want them to work?

DIMAGGIO: That's right. I think you have to look at the purpose of sanctions. As I said, they take time, but they shouldn't be viewed as the means to get to a better - they should be viewed as a means to get to a better position. The goal is to pressure bad actors to change their policy, and we haven't seen that yet. So exerting increasing pressure through sanctions will only be effective if it's part of a larger strategy. And we're not seeing a larger strategy yet.

GREENE: But what is a key in terms of what you would think should be part of a larger strategy that might actually change their behavior?

DIMAGGIO: Well, I think the end goal of that strategy is to bring - should be to bring the North Koreans back to the negotiating table. And if that's the case, then we do need to provide them with some kind of off-ramp very soon. There's an escalation of tension. You mentioned the latest threat of a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific. So the timing seemed right to use the leverage of increased pressure and offer a release valve by pivoting through engagement.

GREENE: All right. We will see what happens next, and we'll see if the Trump administration goes in that direction. That is Suzanne DiMaggio. She is a senior fellow and director at the think tank New America. She's also sat down and held direct talks with North Korean officials as recently as this year. Thanks so much.

DIMAGGIO: My pleasure, David. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ST. GERMAIN'S "MONTEGO BAY SPLEEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.