Treasury Secretary Mnuchin: 'No question' Trump sanctions brought North Korea to the negotiating table

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Mary F. Calvert | Reuters
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the Trump administration's tough economic sanctions against North Korea are the reason leader Kim Jong Un is considering peace talks.

"We put on a maximum pressure campaign which a major component of that was sanctions: These economic sanctions really do work," Mnuchin said at the Milken Global Investment Conference on Monday. "There's no question in my mind that the reason why he is willing to negotiate is the sanctions."

Mnuchin's comments, which came at the annual Milken Global Investment Conference in Beverly Hills, California, came amid an historic warming of relations between North and South Korea.

At a summit last Friday, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared that they will begin drafting the formal end to the Korean War and work together on the "denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula. While lacking key details, the recent announcement concerning nuclear disarmament comes after months of intense pressure from the White House against North Korea's nuclear program.

Back in February, the Trump administration announced a slew of sanctions against North Korea, slapping penalties on one person, 27 companies and 28 ships, according to a statement on the U.S. Treasury Department's website. Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea were also evident in each country's rhetoric, with leaders of both nations exchanging personal barbs and threatening military action.

The increasing pressure, however, appears to have goaded Kim to reconsider, encouraging some of the warmest dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang in years. The diplomacy was so successful, Moon said Monday, that U.S. President Donald Trump ought to be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Trump "deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks. It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure," Moon said in January.

To be sure, negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea face an uphill climb, with Mnuchin explaining that any compromise with Kim would have to include verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, an outcome many geopolitical analysts consider doubtful.

"We will not take off the sanctions until we are convinced and can verify that [Kim] will give up his nuclear weapons," Mnuchin added at the Milken conference. "This has been a major issue of his since he got into office."

The two leaders are expected to meet at some point in the next several weeks, though no specific date has been determined.

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