FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea. President Donald Trump's latest tweets on North Korea have received a muted response in South Korea, where media focused more on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's acknowledgement that the U.S. is keeping open direct communication channels with the North. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File) Image Credit: AP

The time has come for the United States to acknowledge that its policy of trying to induce North Korea’s friends to rein in Pyongyang has failed. The best option for stopping the mounting nuclear threat from Kim Jong-uN’s regime is to muster maximum pressure without waiting for approval or cooperation from Beijing and Moscow.

As early as Monday, the United Nations Security Council could consider a new resolution put forth by the administration of US President Donald Trump that proposes cutting off North Korea’s energy imports, textile exports and ability to deploy workers abroad, according to a leaked draft. If put to a vote, that resolution will likely fail in the face of Russian and Chinese resistance.

Should that happen, there will be no more excuse for the US not to move forward with allies Japan and South Korea with crippling sanctions aimed at the regime, its institutions and its elite supporters. Until now, the US administration has held back as it sought to persuade and prod Beijing to use its considerable leverage to bring Kim to heel.

Once the Trump administration acknowledges that China and Russia have done all they intend to, the US can go much further unilaterally, or with allies, to finally test whether drastic sanctions, combined with tough diplomacy, can move Kim from his defiant position.

“The amount of pressure North Korea has been put under economically is still far short of what we applied to Iran or even Iraq,” a senior US administration official said. “There is a long way to go before North Korea is going to feel the pressure they would need to feel to change their calculus.”

But time is running out as North Korea speeds up work on its nuclear programme. That’s why the US Congress and parts of the North Korea expert community are ramping up calls for the Trump administration to pivot from using only those tools approved by China and Russia.

“I’ve watched the calibrated strategy, which is enunciated by the administration and it doesn’t work,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (Republican, from California) told me. “I believe we have to come in full throttle with cutting off institutions, primarily financial institutions domiciled in China.”

The Trump administration has dabbled in imposing sanctions on Chinese entities that help enable the Kim regime’s illicit activities, but it has yet to cross the line into any area that might put delicate US-China coordination at risk. Royce urged US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to put such measures into action during a briefing last week. His committee also wrote a letter to the US administration, listing large Chinese entities ripe for sanctions, including the Chinese Agricultural Bank and the China Merchant Bank.

There are risks in confronting large Chinese banks, which are essentially arms of the Chinese government. Former top US Treasury Department official Adam Szubin testified to the Senate Banking Committee week before last that imposing sanctions on the banks could harm the Chinese economy and have unintended consequences for the US economy.

Nevertheless, he said, the US should move forward: “The only hope we have lies in a qualitatively different and more severe level of pressure — one that threatens Kim Jong-un’s hold on power,” Szubin testified.

Cutting off hard currency to the Kim regime could undermine Kim’s fragile position with the North Korean elites and military leaders whom he needs to keep happy. Moreover, Kim needs hard currency to continue to develop his nuclear and missile programmes, which rely heavily on smuggled components from other countries.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said week before last that even if Kim doesn’t change course, crippling sanctions could slow his progress towards achieving the capability to threaten the US. Going after the regime’s funding proved effective in 2005, when the administration of former US president George W. Bush sanctioned a Macau bank laundering money for the Kim family. That led to a series of events that brought North Korea to the negotiating table. Trump said recently that talking to the North Korean regime would not be productive, but his State Department is working towards direct diplomacy.

Whether the goal is to negotiate, undermine the regime’s legitimacy or simply slow its nuclear progress, moving forward without China and Russia on maximum pressure is the right move. It may also be the last chance to avoid a binary choice between a nuclear North Korea that can blackmail the world or war.

— Washington Post

Josh Rogin is a senior columnist. He writes about foreign policy and national security.