- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Obama administration is tightening economic sanctions against North Korea by blacklisting a bank involved in Pyongyang’s arms trade and issuing a presidential order restricting imports from the reclusive communist state.

In a statement Tuesday, the Treasury Department said it was taking action against North Korea’s Bank of East Land, also known as the Dongbang Bank, for enabling sanctions-busting activities by the regime, in particular its arms trading with Iran.

The bank facilitated “weapons-related transactions for, and [provided] other support to, designated arms manufacturer and exporter Green Pine Associated Corporation,” the statement said.

Treasury has been at the forefront of Obama administration counter-proliferation efforts. Last year it designated Green Pine a North Korean arms trafficker under the control of an Iranian government intelligence agency called the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB).

The statement Tuesday singled out help the bank gave to Green Pine to get around anti arms-proliferation sanctions on another country, Iran.

“In 2007 and 2008, Bank of East Land facilitated transactions involving Green Pine and designated Iranian financial institutions,” the statement said.

Tuesday’s designation makes it illegal for U.S. citizens or companies to do any business with the bank and freezes any assets it might have in the United States, according to a Treasury official. The official would not comment further, and declined to say whether any assets had been frozen.

The designation was done under powers granted the Treasury by President Obama in an executive order last year, the official said. The order sanctioned North Korean people and companies involved in trafficking in conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction; procuring luxury goods for the regime; and “illicit economic activities, such as money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods and currency, bulk cash smuggling and narcotics trafficking,” according to Treasury documents.

Late Monday night, President Obama signed another executive order that further expanded sanctions against Pyongyang so that all U.S. imports from the country, whether direct or indirect, will require special authority.

“The order prohibits the direct or indirect importation of goods, services, and technology from North Korea,” Mr. Obama wrote in a letter to congressional leaders accompanying the order.

A congressional aide who tracks the issue said the new order “changes nothing,” because those imports are already forbidden under existing sanctions legislation.

There is continuing concern, the staffer said, that the free trade deal with South Korea the administration is pushing will create a loophole for goods made by South Korean companies using North Korean labor in the special Kaesong free trade zone.

“This order does not address concerns that some members have expressed” about Kaesong-assembled goods being eligible for benefits under the deal, the staffer said. “What we need is better codification of the existing [import] restrictions.”

A CIA annual report to Congress made public in February said North Korea is one of the most active states in selling technology and components to the Middle East and South Asia that “are dual use and could support [weapons of mass destruction] and missile programs.”

North Korea is among the world’s leading suppliers of ballistic missiles and related technologies,” the report said.