The Cable

Obama goes after Kim Jong Il’s creature comforts

The Obama administration on Monday announced a limited expansion of the list of entities that fall under U.S. sanctions on North Korea, as well as new sanctions designed to curtail the illicit activities of Kim Jong Il's regime and keep luxury goods out of the hands of the Hermit Kingdom's elite.

The new measures are a response to the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan as well as other recent provocations attributed to Pyongyang. Although the new measures specify just eight organizations and four individuals in North Korea, there are also new authorities the administration could use later to target other businesses and persons who aid the country's nuclear program and its involvement in arms proliferation, currency counterfeiting, money laundering, and illicit drugs.

"North Korea's government helps maintain its authority by placating privileged elites with money and perks, such as luxury goods like jewelry, luxury cars, and yachts," said Stuart Levey, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a briefing with reporters at the Treasury Department Monday.

"The North Korean government also benefits from illicit activities including drug trafficking, counterfeiting U.S. currency, and selling counterfeit cigarettes. All of this activity makes up a crucial portion of the North Korean government's revenues. These activities are carried out by a global financial network that generates this income and procures the luxury goods for the government of North Korea."

President Obama added five organizations and three individuals to the list of targets under Executive Order 13382, which only covers those who are helping North Korea obtain weapons of mass destruction. The president also issued a new executive order that covers the regime's other illicit activities and named three organizations and one individual as targets.

One of the organizations targeted in the new executive order is the ultra secretive "Office 39" of the Korean Worker's Party, which allegedly produces methamphetamines, tries to procure yachts for North Korean elites, and uses Banco Delta Asia to launder its proceeds, according to the U.S. administration. In 2005, the Bush administration used the Patriot Act to single out BDA as a major money-laundering concern.

But there are no companies or persons targeted in today's announcement from any country outside North Korea, as had been advocated internally by ally South Korea, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Levey said the new rules will allow the president to add such entities to the list down the line, if warranted.

Asia experts welcomed the new measures as a small but constructive step in the right direction. They said that even though the measures have little chance of changing North Korea's behavior, by targeting the worst actors, some progress can be made.

"I think the administration has got this right," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia security program at the Center for a New American Security, who said that naming companies from countries like China would have only invited trouble.

"They want to maximize the potential to put pressure on North Korea and at the same time not unnecessarily damage the rest of your interests.  Smart sanctions here means getting specific with the entities that are doing the dirty dealing," he said.

Moreover, designating these entities as targets places them as a higher priority for intelligence gathering, which has its own intrinsic benefit, Cronin said. "Sanctions don't have to ‘work' to be useful,".

Weston Konishi, associate director of Asia-Pacific studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, said that there have been so many rounds of sanctions against North Korea that there's not much added benefit to additional measures.

"I don't think they are going to fundamentally alter the equation here," he said, adding that the move was symbolically important to show solidarity with South Korea.

In addition to various U.S. unilateral sanctions, North Korea is also sanctioned by the United Nations, chiefly under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which seek to curtail North Korea's nuclear development and weapons proliferation, respectively.

Robert Einhorn, the State Departments special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, said Monday that the administration's overall policy toward North Korea has not changed. The administration is still interested in engaging North Korea, but only if Pyongyang affirms its commitment to denuclearization and abides by its previously signed agreements.

"We're not prepared to reward North Korea simply for returning to the negotiating table, including by removing or reducing sanctions," said Einhorn. "We're not interested in talks for talks' sake."

The timing of the announcement had nothing to do with the trip to North Korea by former President Jimmy Carter, who returned from Pyongyang last weekend with pardoned prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Einhorn said.

The Cable

The real Tea Party has no unified foreign policy (with video)

There's a battle going on among the standard-bearers of the Tea Party over their foreign policy message. But at the rank-and-file level, Tea Partiers have no unified view on major foreign policy issues. They are all over the map.

Sarah Palin, who spoke at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the Mall Saturday, would like the Tea Party to endorse her quasi-neoconservative approach to national security policy. She advocates aggressive unilateralism, ever-rising defense budgets, unfailing support of Israel, and a skeptical eye toward China, Russia, and any other possible competitor to the United States.

Ron Paul, a founding leader of the Tea Party who has seen the movement slip away from him somewhat, wants the  movement's focus on thrift to extend to foreign policy, resulting in an almost isolationist approach that sets limits on the use of American power and its presence abroad.

In over a dozen interviews with self-identified Tea Party members at Saturday's rally, your humble Cable guy discovered that, when it comes to foreign policy, attendees rarely subscribed wholeheartedly to either Palin or Paul's world view. Despite claiming to share the same principles that informed their views, Tea Partiers often reached very different conclusions about pressing issues in U.S. foreign policy today.

Understandably, most Tea Party members at the rally viewed foreign policy through the prism of domestic problems such as the poor economy and the movement of jobs overseas. Almost all interviewees expressed support for U.S. troops abroad and a connection to Christianity they said informed their world view.

But that's where the similarities ended. Some attendees sounded like reliable neocons arguing for more troops abroad. Others sounded like antiwar liberals, lamenting the loss of life in any war for any reason. Still others sounded like inside the beltway realists, carefully considering the costs and benefits of a given policy option based on American national security interests.

For example, The Cable interviewed Danny Koss, a former Marine from Grove City, PA, who was measured when it came to talking about the war in Afghanistan.

"If we are going to stay, I suggest we really win," he said. "I'm not convinced that some of our leadership is ready for that. I know our generals are."

Koss, sounding like a realist, said that he saw China as a near-term economic threat but not a near-term military threat. A strike against Iran was not a good option, he argued, although he said it was wise of President Barack Obama to publicly state that all options are on the table.

When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, however, Koss seamlessly switched to a religious frame.

"You've got to go back and read the Bible, see who had it first. If you believe the Bible and who God gave it to, the rest is history," he said.

Later, we ran into Cecilia Goodow from Hartford, NY, who said that her foreign policy views were determined exclusively by her faith. This led her to regret the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.

"It sounded so reasonable at the time. But Holy Father John Paul II was against the war; he said it would just be an awful thing and many people would be killed," she said. "I always supported the troops, but we know history and we know that wars are sometimes perpetrated by evil people for evil reasons that the average person doesn't even know about or understand, so I can't wait for it all to stop."

Goodow said she wants Obama to stand up for America more and fight the forces of evil, which include Iran, but she doesn't support military intervention, even in Afghanistan.

"Sometimes that's cloudy -- why are we there? Barack Obama ran on the promise that he was going to bring everybody home. That's what we all sat around the table talking about. Maybe if there's a new presidential policy maybe we can have peace again, maybe we can bring our kids home," she said. "War begets more war."

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we found Larry Maxwell of Patterson, NY. Dressed in full Revolutionary War regalia and holding a huge American flag, he was as much historian as activist, engaging passersby in debates about America's past.

While he supported the decision to go war in Iraq and largely believes claims that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Maxwell lamented the cost of the Iraq war and the danger of bolstering Iranian influence in the region.

But while Maxwell was concerned about the tensions surrounding Iran and its nuclear program, he didn't believe that a military strike is the best option.

"Are we the world's police? We're having a lot of trouble here and a lot of problems here. I'm not sure where our role comes over there," he said. "The United Nations would be the place for that ... but nobody listens to them."

Maxwell, like Koss, also referenced the Bible to support Israel's right to the land it now occupies. "The Bible says in the last days, that the Middle East, that's going to be the center of activity," he said.  "If you go back to the Bible, it says there's going to be an army of 200 million men coming out of the East to the Middle East, as part of that whole Armageddon and ‘end of days' thing."

But not all Tea Partiers reflexively took Israel's side. Brandon Malator from Washington, DC, who dressed in U.S. Army fatigues and donned a cowboy hat with a Lipton tea bag dangling from the brim, was a stalwart supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not of Israel.

"[We should] stay longer. We've never left any other country and we shouldn't leave Iraq," he said, adding that the U.S. is engaged in a 100-year-war that would include a coming war with Iran and eventually a war with China, which he called "World War III." He praised Obama for sending more troops to Afghanistan. "I think we're doing what we need to do as Americans. I think if the rest of the world doesn't like it, then that's tough luck."

But when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Malatore's was downright dovish.  "I hope that Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement, share the land, and do whatever they need to do to stop fighting all the time. I hope that war ends; that's been going on too long."