US boost sanctions pressure on NKorea over nuclear program

North Korea launched four ballistic missiles in March and many analysts fear the reclusive state could be preparing another nuclear or missile test

The US Treasury hit 11 North Korean business representatives and an industrial firm with sanctions Friday, seeking to further isolate the country's economy for pursuing nuclear weapons.

Most of the officials were based in China and Russia for companies the Treasury said acquire materials, technology and financial support for North Korea's defense industry.

The company named to the sanctions blacklist was North Korea-based Paeksol Trading Corporation, which the Treasury said earns foreign exchange for Pyongyang by trading and exporting coal and iron ore.

The United States has sought Chinese cooperation to crack down on its imports of North Korean coal. But the Treasury said Paeksol continues to export coal through "front companies" in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian.

The sanctions prohibit US entities from doing business with the designated individuals and companies, with the aim of locking them out of the global financial system.

They come as concerns mount over North Korea's quest to develop a long-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile, and expectations the country is on the verge of conducting a new nuclear test.

"Today's sanctions are aimed at disrupting the networks and methods that the government of North Korea employs to fund its unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"These sanctions underscore this administration's commitment to countering the threat to the United States, to our allies, and to stability on the Korean peninsula and in the wider Asia-Pacific region posed by the Kim regime in Pyongyang."

"I urge our partners and allies to take similar measures to cut off its funding."