The Hill, March 22, 2019
President Trump said Friday he would reverse sanctions against North Korea that were recently announced by the Treasury Department, a surprise declaration that sparked confusion in Washington and raised fresh doubts about the White House’s policy process.
In a tweet, Trump wrote that “it was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions” would be imposed in addition to “already existing Sanctions on North Korea.”
“I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!” the president added.
In a brief statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed the decision to Trump’s relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.
White House officials did not specify which sanctions Trump was reversing.
The Treasury Department on Thursday announced it was imposing new penalties on two Chinese shipping companies accused of helping North Korea evade existing sanctions. That announcement, however, was not made within the timetable included in Trump’s tweet.
The Washington Post and Reuters reported later Friday, citing anonymous sources, that Trump was not rolling back the sanctions announced on Thursday but instead was halting a new round of large-scale sanctions that have yet to be made public.
Regardless of the target, it was remarkable that Trump would publicly rebuke an effort by his own Treasury Department to sanction a major U.S. adversary.
It also represented a contrast in tone over North Korea strategy with national security adviser John Bolton, who argued Thursday the previously announced sanctions were a significant step toward ensuring North Korea remains isolated over its nuclear ambitions.
The president’s surprise statement came weeks after the conclusion of his failed nuclear summit with Kim, which threw his attempt to broker a historic nuclear deal with the authoritarian head of state into doubt.
Trump has appeared more upbeat than members of his own administration and foreign policy experts about his ability to reach a deal with the elusive Kim.
In response to mounting evidence North Korea is rebuilding key missile sites, Trump said earlier this month he would be “very disappointed” in Kim if they were, in fact, being rebuilt, but added that “I don’t think I will be.”
This story was updated with new information at 7:30 p.m.