Obama weighs sanctions against North Korea

The White House is weighing new financial sanctions that would target banks and trading companies used by North Korean leader Kim Jung Un and other members of the regime’s leadership.

The sanctions would be in retaliation for the cyberattack against Sony Pictures, senior administration officials told The Wall Street Journal. 


President Obama has repeatedly vowed a “proportional response” to what he described on Sunday as the “cyber vandalism” undertaken against Sony. But White House aides have so far declined to outline what that response might entail, saying they do not want to telegraph their intentions to the North Koreans.

Still, officials told the Journal the response could include an effort to again pursue efforts initially undertaken by the Bush administration that severely restricted the North Korean government’s ability to conduct foreign-exchange transactions.

Bush pressured banks in Macau suspected of doing business with Pyongyang, limiting the regime’s ability to access foreign dollars and purchase luxury goods.

But the former president eased up on that effort and lifted some provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act that restricted trade to North Korea, as part of a deal designed to roll back the country’s nuclear weapons program. Bush’s State Department also removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as part of that effort.

The deal was criticized by some members of the Democratic Party at the time, and a number of Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), called on Obama to reimpose the sanctions during appearances on the Sunday talk shows. 

“We need to react and react vigorously, including reimposing sanctions that were lifted under the Bush administration, including other actions and that will squeeze them more economically,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Obama should “make it so hard on the North Koreans, they don't want to do this in the future.”

“Reimpose sanctions lifted by President Bush. Put them back on the state sponsor of terrorism list. Put China on notice that it's just not a movie. It's our way of life,” Graham said.

Sony canceled the debut of “The Interview” — a comedy that depicts the assassination of Kim Jong Un — after the hack and a subsequent threat of a Sept. 11-style attacks.

In addition to the economic sanctions, the White House is weighing whether to again place North Korea on the state sponsors of terrorism list. That designation bans arms-related exports and sales to a country, prohibits economic assistance, and puts additional restrictions and requirements on financial transactions and exports. 

“We're going to review those through a process that's already in place,” Obama said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We've got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism. And we don't make those judgments just based on the news of the day. We look systematically at what's been done and based on those facts, we'll make those determinations in the future.”

The U.S. appears to be ratcheting up pressure on China to intervene over the hacking case. The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday said Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the Sony hack over the phone. 

Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that China was prepared to work with the international community to promote cybersecurity, according to state news agency Xinhua.