January 13, 2015 / 9:29 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. takes aim at North Korea's remaining financial links

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the newly-built Pyongyang City Mushroom Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang January 10, 2015.KCNA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States aims to use new sanctions imposed on North Korea over the cyber attack on Sony Pictures to cut off the country's remaining links to the international financial system, a senior U.S. Treasury official said on Tuesday.

Daniel Glaser, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the U.S. Treasury Department, said past sanctions had already discouraged "hundreds" of overseas banks, including China's major commercial banks, from doing business with North Korea.

New sanctions announced by President Barack Obama on Jan 2. provided "a tremendous amount of flexibility" and the goal was to identify remaining financial institutions that allowed North Korea access to the global system, which could face sanction themselves, Glaser told a House of Representatives briefing.

"We could target any North Korean government agency; we could target any North Korean government official ... we could apply sanctions with respect to any individual or entity who is providing them, in turn, material support," he said.

Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for use of the full scope of the new sanctions announced after U.S. authorities said North Korea was behind the Sony attack.

"The significance of this new Executive Order may come from the broad power it gives the president to target anyone who is a part of the North Korean government, or is assisting them in any way … that is if the administration chooses to use it to its full advantage," he told the briefing.

"We need to step up and target those financial institutions in Asia and beyond that are supporting the brutal and dangerous North Korean regime."

When challenged by Royce about "a number of small banks" still doing business with North Korea and the need to choke off the country's access to hard currency, Glaser replied: "That's exactly what we are trying to do."

Royce said he hoped a bipartisan bill he sponsored that would label North Korea "a primary money laundering concern" would be passed by the Senate this year.

At a news conference at the United Nations in New York, North Korea's Deputy U.N. Ambassador An Myong Hun reiterated his country's position that it had nothing to do with the Sony hacking and said the United States should provide evidence.

Long-standing international sanctions have sought to push North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, but while they have slowed the program, they have not stopped it.

The country's main economic ties are with China and, according U.S. government reports, its tiny economy has supported itself with money-making scams ranging from counterfeiting $100 bills to illicit arms and drug sales.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Gunna Dickson

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