Archive for the ‘Sanctions’ category

Donald Trump Meets Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko After Sanctioning Russian-Backed Separatists

June 21, 2017

Donald Trump Meets Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko After Sanctioning Russian-Backed Separatists, BreitbartCharlie Spiering, June 20, 2017

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President Donald Trump met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday as his administration imposed sanctions on Russian-backed separatists in the country.

Trump said the two had “very, very good discussions,” calling Ukraine “a place that we’ve all been very much involved in.”

Behind the scenes, the White House revealed that Trump and Poroshenko discussed support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on two Russian officials and several separatists in Eastern Ukraine to support the Ukrainian amidst ongoing Russian-backed conflicts in the region.

“This administration is committed to a diplomatic process that guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, and there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements,” Mnuchin said Tuesday.

Poroshenko said it was a “great pleasure” to meet with Trump to discuss issues important to Ukraine and called the president a “supporter and strategic partner” of the country.

“We’re really fighting for freedom and democracy,” he said.

Don’t Allow Lobbyist And Deceiving Voices Conceal The Truth About Venezuela

May 25, 2017

Don’t Allow Lobbyist And Deceiving Voices Conceal The Truth About Venezuela, Center for Security Policy, Luis Fleischman, May 25, 2017

More than fifty days after mass civil disobedience began in Venezuela, more than 50 people have died at the hands of the government.

People have lost fear and the government is resorting to more measures that are repressive to subdue the population. The idea is to make every effort to stay in power regardless of human casualties. Thus, the Venezuelan government is launching the so-called “Plan Zamora,” an unclear plan and has not been published in a written form. This makes the plan even more unpredictable and dangerous. So far, “Plan Zamora” has been applied on three Venezuelan states, Táchira, Carabobo, and now Barinas (Chavez birthplace).

“Plan Zamora” consists of a military-civic coalition that includes national guards, the military, militias, and para-military groups. The purpose is “to prevent a coup d’état” and “to restore order” in the face of protests. This means increasing repression, assassination of protestors, and SA-style elimination of opponents.

Indeed, in the last several days, five protestors were treacherously murdered under the plan. It is a system aimed at intimidating protestors to the point of dissuading them from further joining demonstrations.

Maduro has also proposed a constitutional reform aimed at eliminating the National Assembly, currently dominated by the opposition. A new constitution would be drafted by a new constituent assembly elected by the local city halls and by community groups, carefully picked as stooges of the Maduro regime. The move would secure power consolidation in the hands of Nicolas Maduro.

The United States has once again increased its sanctions on Venezuela’s chief Supreme Justice and seven other members of the Supreme Court. Such step was taken in reaction to their decision last month, to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Those sanctions will freeze their assets within U.S jurisdiction and no U.S citizen will be allowed to do business with them.

This is an important step as it discourages government officers from obeying illegal and unconstitutional orders. However, it remains insufficient given the magnitude of the regime crimes. From now onwards every military officer, every security official, and every government official that follows the government must be sanctioned. Likewise, every single individual involved in the drug business, which is today a huge government business. The purpose of these measures should be to encourage desertion from the government.

Furthermore, the Trump Administration should not compromise with lobbyists or with members of Congress that have been lobbied by the Venezuelan government. Most such lobbying is conducted through CITGO, the U.S based company associated with the Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. So far, CITGO has scored incredible successes, which are scary in terms of how foreign agents can corrupt Washington. Former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) effectively prevented the Senate from passing sanctions legislation against Venezuelan government officials in 2014. Former Congressman Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) was in charge of Citizens Energy, a non-profit organization that distributed heating oil provided by CITGO to U.S poor neighborhoods, to buy the good will of the U.S establishment.

The same applies to U.S business interests that, so far, have prevented full sanctions against CITGO and PDVSA. This step is also long overdue that could have devastating consequences for the Maduro regime.

Trump’s campaign promises included the curbing of such lobbyists and we hope and expect that the president makes good on his promises.

Additionally, Venezuela has its own conscious and unconscious accomplices in its disinformation campaign in the United States. This week the Rev Jesse Jackson warned the Trump Administration not “to help get rid of a regime it does not like,” as if Venezuela were not a huge violator of human rights or the number one sponsor of international transnational crime. He praised the regime founded by Hugo Chavez as one that brought about reduction of poverty and improvement in health care services, as if Venezuelans were not facing hunger now or as if they were any safer in the face of government-sponsored violence. Worse, Jackson criticizes the old elite that ruled Venezuela before Chavez and forgets the new class of billionaires that the Chavez regime created by allowing them to benefit from dubious businesses, government connections, and plain corruption. This includes his own vice president, who in his early forties has accumulated a fortune of 3 billion dollars in a supposedly socialist and egalitarian regime.

Jackson accuses the United States of mobilizing the Organization of American States (OAS) against Maduro, when in fact the person taking the lead is the OAS Secretary and former Foreign Minister of a Uruguayan president with strong left-wing credentials. Jackson forgets that OAS members are appalled by the violations of the organization’s democracy charter and human rights commitment. Furthermore, countries of the region such as Brazil and Colombia are concerned that drug cartels are receiving Russian weapons from Caracas, including MANPADS, a shoulder-launched surface to air missile. The Swedish government also confirmed that such missiles were found in a camp ran by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Last but not least, Jackson called to follow the initiative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean country that has accused the OAS of being a “weapon of destruction” against Venezuela. But Jackson does not mention that St. Vincent as well as other Caribbean countries benefitted from Venezuelan oil largesse in exchange for political support. Furthermore, as I wrote a few years ago, several Caribbean countries that are part of Venezuela’s political Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) have issued passports to Iranians, presumably at the request of Venezuela.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines itself produced unreliable travel documents, where anybody may obtain a new passport and easily change their names. It is reasonable to assume that Iranians could have taken advantage of this vulnerability. Likewise, St. Vincent forged an alliance with Iran, who sent the island US $7 million for social projects.

The Trump Administration, as well as the media and the public, must be aware of these facts and politically fight obstacles that prevent us from carrying out the obligation to protect our national security, the security of the region, and the values for which America stands.

Diplomatic and economic efforts must continue until Venezuela recovers its democracy.

Speeding up to the grand finale

May 19, 2017

Speeding up to the grand finale, Venezuela News and Views, Daniel Duquenal  May 19, 2017

Today FINALLY the US has retaken sanctions against Venezuelan officials. Nothing less than the constitutional court judges have been added to the Treasury list, the OFAC´s  SDN. You know, those 8 TSJ members who have been consistently taking decisions against the National Assembly until they went ahead and tried the outright couple that has started this month and a half of violence and repression.

Meanwhile back in Washington, for all of his recent problems Trump is not forgetting about Venezuela, something for which we welcome his consistency. He received Santos and for all we know they did talk heavy on Venezuela. After all these are the two countries who have the most to fear from the final collapse of Venezuela. Colombia could have 2 million refugees over a few months and the US will see its share.

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I was working on a text about how hard it has become to live in Caracas in the last month but today’s news make me realize that it is going to get much worse fast.

Highlighting Gladys because it makes me so happy

The Miami Herald gives you all. And it would be very difficult to exaggerate what they write or overstate the importance of it. Let’s start with a sound bite from General Torrealba, the one who three weeks ago (I think) had his HQ filmed as a horde of paramilitary colectivo motorbikers were leaving it, breaking any law that used to exist in Venezuela. That video was frightening by itself and promptly the buildings from were it was taken were searched (I think, memory fails me, and if not those buildings Barquisimeto has had several nights of building searches and looting and abuse and violence anyway)

Not that it mattered much for chavismo: after all it was a way to press on the psychological terror that Maduro has been leading (him as a figure head or the Cubans or someone else, does it matter?). But that recording goes too far as Torrealba calls for training of snipers and admitting that they will be used in a not so distant future even though other military objected (not for humanitarian reasons, mind you, but to save their skin).  This is The Hague court  material.

But if Torrealba thinks he can get away with it (oh hubris, when thy hold us in thrall!) he should think again. Today FINALLY the US has retaken sanctions against Venezuelan officials. Nothing less than the constitutional court judges have been added to the Treasury list, the OFAC´s SDN. You know, those 8 TSJ members who have been consistently taking decisions against the National Assembly until they went ahead and tried the outright coup that has started this month and a half of violence and repression.

Of course, on immediate terms it does not do them much harm but….  now Treasury can go against any of their front people; now no one that makes business with the US government can make business with them; obviously they cannot travel to the US anymore; not even to check on any property they may have since that one is frozen; and if their plane lands in a country sympathetic to the US, well, you know…..

Of course, they can still enjoy the unfrozen loot in Venezuela but the world has suddenly gone quite smaller around them.

Of course you could say that this is more ammunition for the propaganda regime and that in the end it will hut more the Venezuelan people than the regime. BULL SHIT!  We are already hurting quite a lot and truly with or without US sanctions against the regime personnel it is going to get worse for us. SO, please, foreign powers, fuck these bastards, give us at least that small consolation.

Of course, the regime will try to use this for its internal propaganda, which will fall on deaf ears courtesy of near starvation levels of an increasing share of the populace. But overseas they cannot counter the tide against the regime. Even Ecuador’s Correa is starting to raise his voice, timidly, but raised it is. Meanwhile back in Washington, for all of his recent problems Trump is not forgetting about Venezuela, something for which we welcome his consistency. He received Santos and for all we know they did talk heavy on Venezuela. After all these are the two countries who have the most to fear from the final collapse of Venezuela. Colombia could have 2 million refugees over a few months and the US will see its share. And the problems that come along as the latest trend is for exiled Venezuelans to hunt down chavistas hiding in Florida and harass them. Not something that I would do, but heck, who am I to condemn such activities from people that have lost it all to Chavez?

Meanwhile, to improve further its image overseas, the regime confiscated Henrique Capriles passport today as he was about to board a plane to a meeting on human rights. Right, well done Maduro! The irony here is that as the regime blocked one of the main figures of the opposition from traveling it did not imagine that within hours even with a passport the high court could not travel anywhere anymore. Well, maybe to Cuba. If their plane does not need to do an emergency landing in a pro US island.

Whatever it is you may think of all of this I trust that you will agree with me that the end, some end, is coming sooner than later.

Of course, you knew that already.

 

House to Vote on New Sanctions Against the Syrian Regime

May 17, 2017

House to Vote on New Sanctions Against the Syrian Regime, Washington Free Beacon, May 17, 2017

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on October 6, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with Denmark’s TV2 channel. / AFP / SANA / – (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

The House is expected to vote Wednesday evening on bipartisan legislation that would impose new sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for war crimes and human rights abuses against civilians, sources with the House Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed.

The 4 p.m. vote is set to arrive two days after the State Department accused the Syrian government of using a crematorium to dispose of human remains from mass executions at a military prison north of Damascus unofficially named the “slaughterhouse.

The legislation, introduced in March by Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and his Democratic committee counterpart Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), has more than 100 co-sponsors. More than half of the co-sponsors are Democrats.

The bill would impose sanctions on the Assad regime and its foreign backers by requiring the Trump administration to blacklist any company or person that does business with the Syrian government and its entities, including Assad-controlled industries such as energy and air travel. It also would provide U.S. assistance to groups pursuing investigations into Syrian war crimes in order to galvanize prosecutions.

The Obama administration prevented a similar measure from receiving a House vote in the fall despite broad bipartisan support.

Administration officials told Democratic lawmakers at the time the legislation would impact fragile ceasefire negotiations between then-Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the Washington Post reported in October.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement Monday the “legislation is needed now more than ever,” citing the Trump administration’s assertion that the Assad regime was systematically burning the bodies of executed inmates at the Saydnaya military prison to cover up the mass murders.

The accusations are based on newly declassified aerial photos of the Saydnaya prison complex that show the construction of the crematorium in 2013.

“We now believe that the Syrian regime has installed a crematorium in the Saydnaya prison complex, which could dispose of detainees’ remains with little evidence,” Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs, told reporters Monday. “At this point, we are talking about this evidence and bringing it forward to the international community, which we hope will put pressure on the regime to change its behavior.”

The United Nations kicked off its sixth round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva on Tuesday. The State Department’s accusations are expected to be discussed at the talks.

Amnesty International released a report in February offering evidence that the Assad regime executed up to 13,000 Syrians through mass hangings at the Saydnaya prison over a four-year span. Thousands more were killed through systematic torture that included severe beatings, rape, and starvation, according to the group.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Lavrov in a meeting at the White House last week to exert Moscow’s influence over Syria to pressure Assad into reining in his regime, according to a State Department spokeswoman.

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media

May 2, 2017

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media, Al-Monitor

People walk outside Lebanon’s Central Bank in Beirut November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/File Photo – RTSEJDF

Congress is blaming the State Department and the US Embassy in Lebanon after draft sanctions legislation was leaked to the Lebanese media, setting off a political and diplomatic firestorm.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., began devising a new bill targeting Hezbollah last year amid concerns that the Barack Obama administration was slow-walking implementation of a previous effort that was signed into law in December 2015. Royce shared an early draft with State Department experts for their input, sources on and off Capitol Hill told Al-Monitor, but got burned when a media outlet close to Hezbollah got wind of it. 

The State Department has not officially acknowledged or denied being involved. Royce declined to comment.

As a result of the leak, numerous newspaper articles in Lebanon over the past month have picked apart — and possibly distorted — an unfinalized draft that only a handful of people in Washington have heard about and fewer still have seen. Even House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a natural ally on sanctions legislation, has yet to see the proposed draft, according to a Democratic aide. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is working on a similar effort in the Senate.

Lebanese officials say destabilizing sanctions would be ill-advised while tiny Lebanon is struggling to absorb more than a million refugees from Syria.

“We are surprised by all the leaks about new sanctions,” Lebanese member of parliament Yassine Jaber, a former economy minister who met with administration officials during the congressional recess two weeks ago, told Al-Monitor in an email. “We don’t see a need for further legislation, we feel that all these leaks about further legislation to come, only hurts Lebanon, its economy and banking sector, at a moment of very high weakness and vulnerability.”

According to Lebanese media accounts, the 20-page draft bill has also caused a panic in Lebanon because of its potential political impact. While the 2015 bill unnerved a banking sector that is one of the pillars of the country’s economy, the new draft has government leaders fretful that Congress is now coming after them.

The Royce draft, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said last week during a meeting with the Washington-based American Task Force for Lebanon, “would harm Lebanon and its people greatly.” Critics are worried that the draft bill paves the way for sanctioning Lebanese allies and political parties that are close to Hezbollah, including Aoun, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement headed by his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and the Shiite Amal Movement of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

In response, the Lebanese government is planning to send a delegation to Washington later this month of government officials, lawmakers and other dignitaries, possibly including Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. The government hopes to have representatives of the private banking sector tag along to play up any potential threat to the financial sector, a Lebanese source told Al-Monitor, but the main concern appears to be with the bill’s political ramifications.

“This is more about the political groups of the speaker, etc., being nervous rather than the issues of the banks,” the source said. “Politicians — and the government, actually — are trying to get the private banks involved in their effort. I can tell you the private banks do not like that: They do not want to come with politicians here.”

The Association of Banks in Lebanon spent $200,000 in the first three months of this year to discreetly lobby Congress about the bill and other matters, according to lobbying records. The banks would prefer to wait until President Donald Trump fills in top spots at the Treasury Department before organizing their annual visit to Washington, the source said.

Hezbollah claims to get all its funding from Iran. US experts, however, have long suspected that much more comes from Lebanese expatriates, illegal activities and other sources, fueling Congress’ desire to crack down on as many funding streams as possible.

The Lebanese source, who has seen a draft of the bill, said it does not designate Hezbollah’s allies as terror groups. Rather, it would require the Trump administration to publicly report on their financial links to the Shiite militia, including estimates of the net worth of some top Lebanese officials.

“Obviously they don’t want their net worth to be mentioned,” the source said. “I totally see how Nabih Berri could be panicking even if his own party knows how much money he has.”

 

House Conservatives Back Investigation to Get ‘Full Understanding’ of Flynn Call

February 15, 2017

House Conservatives Back Investigation to Get ‘Full Understanding’ of Flynn Call, PJ MediaNicholas Ballasy, February 14, 2017

(Please see also Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn. — DM)

congressonflynnReps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), left, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) leave a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Feb. 24, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Members of the House Freedom Caucus signaled today that they would support an investigation of retired Gen. Mike Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials.

Flynn resigned from his position as national security advisor in the Trump administration late Monday.

“We have to be careful because of commenting without the facts, but at the same time I don’t know how you get the facts without doing some investigation, so let me say that. I think there needs to be a full accounting so we understand what happened there,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said on Capitol Hill. “But I would also say from my standpoint that Gen. Flynn’s service both in uniform and out and is beyond reproach and I don’t want to question that. I’m not going to question that at all. I think maybe his actions were premature based on what I’ve heard.”

The White House has acknowledged reports that Flynn and the Russian ambassador had conversations that included discussion of sanctions before Trump took office, and that the Justice Department alerted the White House of the conversations and the potential that Flynn could be blackmailed by the Kremlin. However, Perry said Congress does not know the context of those Flynn conversations.

“I’m concerned that the heat has become hot based on the accusations without any facts to support them, but I think we do need to have a full understanding of what occurred,” he said.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) agreed with Perry’s comments.

“I would support an investigation if it’s warranted based on information from the intelligence community, and the first step would be for the intelligence committees to have that understanding with the intelligence community,” Amash said. “The rest of us in Congress wouldn’t have immediate access to the same information, so really it’s incumbent upon the intelligence community and the intelligence committees to work together so we know whether an investigation is warranted.”

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) questioned why the U.S. having a “good relationship” with Russia is being portrayed in the media as a “bad thing.”

“We need to be careful what we are saying because we don’t have all the facts, but I do think it’s incumbent upon the intelligence committees to determine what the facts are and see if there has to be further investigation,” he said. “I do find it a little bit fascinating that having a good relationship with Russia all of a sudden is a bad thing when you guys never said a peep about it when the president of the United States said that he would have more flexibility when he won re-election, when Hillary Clinton said she wanted a reset with Russia, when all these different things happened where they were trying to have better relationships with Russia.”

Labrador said the intelligence committees in the House and Senate need to examine the Flynn situation to find out exactly what happened.

“All of a sudden, having a good relationship with Russia apparently is a negative thing. But there’s no question about it in my mind that the intelligence committees need to look first, obviously in confidential meetings and others, but they need to figure out exactly what happened,” he said.

“And I think Gen. Flynn, he offered his resignation, did the right thing because the moment he misled the vice president of the United States, I think he had lost the confidence of the administration whether it was intentional of not, it was a significant enough issue where it should have been a straightforward answer,” he added.

Flynn said in his resignation that he “inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a press conference today that the obvious question about Flynn’s contact with Russian officials is, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Cummings called for an “emergency” public hearing with Flynn.

“I know he’s now resigned, but he’s not going to get off that easy. We need some answers to a whole lot of questions, but the obvious questions are what did the president know and when did he know it? Was the president aware of Flynn’s efforts? Did he support them?” he said. “Another question, why did Flynn continue to sit in on the most sensitive classified meetings until just two days ago? Ladies and gentlemen, something is wrong with that picture.”

Cummings also said he wants to see Flynn’s security clearance documents.

“I want to see them. I want to see what he put in those documents to find out if he was honest on those forms, and we need to know how much he got paid to have dinner with Putin – but that is only the beginning,” he said. “The Republicans need to join us. This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. It’s not an independent issue. This is an American issue for the soul of our democracy.”

North Korea’s Sanctions Loophole

February 29, 2016

North Korea’s Sanctions Loophole, Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2016

Happy KimThis undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on February 27, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un smiling during the inspection of the test-fire of a newly developed anti-tank guided weapon at an undisclosed location. PHOTO: KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Obama Administration is touting the latest United Nations sanctions as a milestone against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. We’d like to believe it too, but a close look at the draft Security Council resolution offers many reasons to doubt.

The resolution would double the number of blacklisted North Korean individuals and state entities, adding Pyongyang’s atomic-energy and space agencies. Luxury goods banned from export to North Korea would grow to include watches, yachts and snowmobiles. A ban on sales of aviation fuel targets state-owned airline Air Koryo, while a ban on sales of rocket fuel targets Kim Jong Un’s missile program.

More significant are efforts to cut Pyongyang’s access to hard currency and smuggled weapons technology. The sanctions expand the list of banned arms and dual-use goods, and they require states to inspect all cargo transiting their territory to or from North Korea by sea, air or land. They would also squeeze North Korean mineral exports, including coal and iron ore, which in 2014 accounted for 53% of Pyongyang’s $2.8 billion in exports to China, per South Korean state figures.

Overall the blacklist of North Korean proliferators is growing by only 12 individuals and 20 entities to a total of 64; the U.N.’s former blacklist on Iran was far larger at 121. In any case, none of these matter if China won’t rigorously enforce them—which it has never done.

There are other loopholes and oversights. The nominal ban on North Korean mineral exports applies only to purchases that demonstrably fund illicit activities, rather than “livelihood purposes.” Yet money is fungible, so Chinese coal purchases excused on livelihood or humanitarian grounds will still channel hundreds of millions of dollars to the regime.

The sanctions also do nothing about the Chinese oil transfers that keep the Kim regime alive. Or Chinese purchases of textiles from mostly state-run North Korean factories that have quadrupled to $741 million a year since 2010 and recently ensnared Australian surf brand Rip Curl in a supply-chain controversy. Or the 50,000-plus North Korean laborers overseas, largely in China and Russia, earning some $230 million a year for their masters in Pyongyang.

U.S. officials say China has new incentive to back sanctions because it wants to block South Korea’s recent moves to deploy the U.S.-built Thaad missile-defense system. That may be why China wants to look cooperative, but the new sanctions aren’t enough to justify walking back on Thaad. China still views the North as a political buffer against South Korea, a thorn in the side of Japan and the U.S., and a diplomatic card to play at the U.N. So China has long played a double game of rhetorically deploring North Korea’s nuclear program while propping it up in practice.

The better way to squeeze the North is closer cooperation among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo to sanction Chinese banks that facilitate trade with Pyongyang. This worked a decade ago until the Bush Administration fell for more of China’s diplomatic promises. China won’t get serious about stopping North Korea until it sees that the U.S. and its allies are serious.