US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefs on North Korea at the White House. February 23, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

The Trump administration imposed tough new shipping sanctions against North Korea on Friday.

The move, after a lull in tensions during the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, indicated that the White House intends to renew pressure against Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.

“Today, I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime,” Mr. Trump was set to say to the Conservative Political Action Conference, according to comments released by the White House.

The latest sanctions target 27 shipping companies and 28 vessels, registered in North Korea and six other nations, including China. The Treasury Department says the shippers are participating in a complex scheme to help North Korea dodge UN restrictions against imports of refined fuel and exports of coal.

The US and its allies say the illegal ship-to-ship transfers at sea of oil and coal have enabled the North to blunt the impact of the sanctions on its economy. Chinese and Russian interests are alleged to be behind the smuggling, which has been hotly criticized by Washington.

“The timing of Mr. Trump’s announcement was notable, coming just hours after South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, played host at dinner to Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is leading the United States delegation to the closing ceremony of the games on Sunday,” the New York Times said Friday.

The White House is reportedly cool to the rapprochement between the two Koreas that has marked the Winter Olympics. The administration has opposed talks with the North unless it curbed its nuclear and missile tests, though it also hinted that it might engage in discussions without preconditions.

Observers are watching to see if the US will seriously escalate pressure against North Korea after the games end, or if it will engage in preliminary talks with Pyongyang.

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