Washington: President Donald Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly-imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favour to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
“It was announced today by the US Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”
The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Friday against Iran and Venezuela, but not North Korea.
However, economic penalties were imposed Thursday on two Chinese shipping companies suspected of helping North Korea evade international sanctions. Those penalties, announced with news releases and a White House briefing, were the first imposed against North Korea since late last year and came less than a month after a summit between Trump and Kim collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, without a deal.
It was initially believed that Trump had confused the day that the North Korea sanctions were announced, and officials said they were caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Asked for clarification, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to give specifics.
“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.
Hours later, two officials familiar with Trump’s thinking said the president was actually referring to additional North Korea sanctions that are under consideration but not yet formally issued.
That statement sought to soften the blow that Trump’s tweet had dealt to his most loyal aides. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, personally signed off on the sanctions that were issued on Thursday.
The reversal on the North Korea sanctions drew swift condemnation on Friday from Democrats, who accused the president of being reckless with national security.
Trump’s decision stunned current and former Treasury Department officials, some of whom wondered if the move was planned in advance as a gesture to Kim. Others feared that America’s vaunted sanctions regime had been compromised.