Press Briefing by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
New York Hilton Midtown – Rhinelander Gallery South
New York, New York
3:03 P.M. EDT
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Hello, everybody. Nice to see you. Glad to be here with all of you. It's been a very productive week at the United Nations. I've been pleased to be here with the President.
Today, the President strengthened -- he signed an executive order that strengthened the U.S. government's ability to cut off funding to the North Korean regime and its weapons development program. Despite multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un continues to threaten the world and his neighbors with provocative nuclear and missile tests.
President Trump's new executive order significantly expands Treasury's authorities to target those who enable this regime's economic activity wherever they are located.
For too long, North Korea has evaded sanctions and used the international financial system to facilitate funding for its weapons and mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. No bank, in any country, should be used to facilitate Kim Jong-un's destructive behavior.
This new executive order will authorize Treasury to impose a range of sanctions, such as suspending U.S. correspondent account access to any foreign bank that knowingly conducts or facilitates significant transactions tied to trade with North Korea. These sanctions will be forward-looking and applied to behavior that occurs following today, when President Trump signed the executive order.
Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that, going forward, they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both. This new executive order enables Treasury to freeze assets of anyone conducting significant trade in goods, services, or technology with North Korea. It also allows us to freeze assets of actors supporting North Korea's textile, fishing, IT, and manufacturing industries.
We call on all countries around the world to join us by cutting off all trade and financial ties with North Korea in order to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. As President Trump stated in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, it is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it seizes its hostile behavior.
We will continue to work with our allies and partners to stop North Korea from using the global financial system to further Kim's reckless behavior.
Thank you. And I'd be happy to take a few questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, Jeff Mason from Reuters. Can you explain how this will affect China specifically, and what kind of discussions you or your counterparts or others in the administration have had with them about this?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, let me comment. I had a very productive conversation very early this morning with Governor Zhou at the PBOC, the People's Bank of China, in how we are going to work together. This action is directed at everyone. It is in no way specifically directed at China. And we look forward to working very closely with them.
Q But China is its biggest trading partner.
Q Mr. Secretary, can I just read a quick section of the EO? I want to understand what this means.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Yes.
Q " No aircraft in which a foreign person has an interest that has landed at a place in North Korea may land at a place in the United States within 180 days after departure from North Korea." And then the similar application to vessels. Any way you could put a number on how many ships or aircrafts would have been affected by this in -- pick a year -- last couple of years? Can we get a sense of the scale of the EO, its impact?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, that's another important aspect of the EO, besides for us being able to block financial transactions. We'll be working very closely with the Coast Guard and others on this. I'm not prepared to give you a number, but it's very significant. And further, we can put actions against ports as well.
Q Secretary Mnuchin, thank you. I have a couple of questions. First one: Why will this round of sanctions work when others have failed?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, let me be clear. First of all, I don’t think other sanctions have failed. But these sanctions are very significant because not only does it allow us to sanction individuals or entities but it allows us to freeze or block any transactions, with any financial institution, anywhere in the world that facilitates any transactions with the blocked person.
Q And just to be very clear, do these sanctions include a plan to target North Korean companies and individuals around the world?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Yes, it does.
Q Okay. And any plans for future sanctions?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I will never comment on future sanctions but we will continue to review all options.
Q Can you rule it out in the coming days?
Q Does this represent in any way a rejection or a moving past the U.N. Security Council?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: No, I don't think in any way. We very much appreciate the U.N. Security Council resolution and the unanimous support to that. This goes beyond that.
Q What does this do that you couldn't get done through the Security Council?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, as I've mentioned, this allows us to block any financial institution that doesn't follow through on the U.N. sanctions or additional sanctions.
Yeah, over here.
Q When do you expect to make designations under this authority?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, we'll do designations on a rolling basis. They obviously start with all activity today. So this is forward-looking, this is not backwards-looking.
Q Can you say more about your discussions with the Central Bank of China? What do you understand is the scope of their --
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, those conversations are confidential. But as I said, I had a very productive conversation with them this morning.
Q Piggybacking on that, is there anything in terms of the timeline of it? Had there been previous negotiations leading to this point with the bank in China?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: No. There were no previous negotiations. First time we discussed it was early this morning, our time.
Q Who broached the subject first?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I did. I called them to alert them of this in advance, given their close cooperation with us.
Q Thank you. Margaret Talev with Bloomberg. So I wanted to ask part of the same question, which is that China had given some indication a week and a half or so ago of some action. What they did today is completely separate from what they had indicated earlier?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I'm not going to make any comments about what they did earlier. But what they did today I assume was as a result of our conversation.
Q Can I ask another question?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, why don’t we come back to you just we can get other people in here.
Q Paul (inaudible) from the Wall Street Journal. Do you believe that China's actions today reduce the need for further secondary sanctions on Chinese entities?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I'll just comment -- we look forward to working with them in a very cooperative way, the way we look forward to working with all of our partners. And again, what's important about this is the additional authorities the Treasury has.
Q Peter Baker from The New York Times. Can you put this in the context of the President's speech earlier in the week when he talked about more military action? I mean, how do these work together? And what do you expect North Korea to do in response?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I'm not going to comment on what I expect North Korea to do. Obviously, what we've said is the objective is for them to stop their missile tests and give up their nuclear weapons.
As it relates to -- this is something that has been in the works for a while. I alluded to this, I believe it was about two weeks ago, that I had been discussing this with the President and this was all part of the President's strategy at the U.N. this week.
Q Thank you. Secretary Tillerson had said it took a while for the last round of sanctions to actually have an impact, or for North Korea to begin to feel them. Is there a timeline that you're looking at? In which case --
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, there's no timeline we're looking at. This is forward action on this. Again, I would just emphasize that we hope that there is voluntarily cooperation. But to the extent that we have to cut off banks from the banking system in the United States, which obviously would be very significant, we now have those tools to do that.
Q Did call any other country's central bank?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I'm not going to make any other comments on confidential discussions I've had with other countries.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I am confirming that I did speak to them this morning. I'm not going to comment on other confidential discussions.
Q Yes, thank you. Sarah (ph) with NHK. Secretary, the President earlier thanked Xi Jinping for his bold actions, but would you say that these actions today were enough? And also, would you call on Russia to put more pressure on North Korea?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, we'll call on Russia to do more. President Trump and President Xi have had very productive conversations, and we appreciate the way they're working with us.
I'm going to take one more.
Q I'd like to follow up on my initial question. You said that this was not targeted at China specifically, but China is the largest trading partner with North Korea. So can you spell out how this will affect them and how it will affect the U.S. relationship with China, which regards North Korea?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, as I emphasized earlier, this is targeted at North Korea and anybody that wants to do trade or business with them. And we appreciate the relationship with China and we look forward to working with them.
Thank you, everybody.
END 3:13 P.M. EDT