WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday by announcing that he was rolling back North Korea sanctions that it imposed just a day ago.
The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration and represented a striking case of a White House intervening to reverse a major national security decision made only hours earlier by the president’s own officials.
“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump said on Twitter. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”
Trump appeared to confuse the day that the sanctions were announced, saying the move occurred Friday rather than Thursday.
The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed new sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies that it says have been helping North Korea evade international sanctions. The sanctions linked to North Korea were the first that the Treasury Department had imposed since late last year and came less than a month after a summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, without a deal.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the decision was a favor to Kim. “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of Trump’s most loyal aides, personally signed off on the sanctions and hailed the decision in a statement accompanying them Thursday.
“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related U.N. Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Mnuchin said in the statement.
Tony Sayegh, a Treasury Department spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweet Friday.
Treasury and State Department officials, including career staff members and political appointees, spend months carefully crafting sanctions based on intensive intelligence gathering and legal research.
Current and former Treasury officials were stunned by Trump’s decision Friday. Some said they wondered if the move was planned in advance, as a gesture to Kim. Others feared that America’s vaunted sanctions regimen had been compromised.
“For an administration that continues to surprise, this is another first — the president of the United States undercutting his own sanctions agency for imposing sanctions on Chinese actors supporting North Korea,” said John E. Smith, former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who left the department last year. “It’s a win for North Korea and China and a loss for U.S. credibility.”
The department did issue a new round of sanctions against Iran on Friday, targeting a research and development unit that it believes could be used to restart Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. It also announced new sanctions on Bandes, Venezuela’s national development bank, and its subsidiaries, as part of its effort to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro.