WASHINGTON – The Bush administration wants North Korea’s attention, so like a scolding parent, it’s trying to make it tougher for that country’s eccentric leader to buy iPods, plasma televisions and Segway electric scooters.
The U.S. government’s first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president expressly targets items believed to be favored by Kim Jong Il or presented by him as gifts to the roughly 600 loyalist families who run his communist nation.
Kim, who engineered a secret nuclear weapons program, has other options for obtaining the high-end consumer electronics and other items he wants.
But the list of proposed luxury sanctions, obtained by The Associated Press, aims to make Kim’s swanky life harder: No more cognac, Rolex watches, cigarettes, artwork, expensive cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles or even personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis.
The new ban would extend even to music and sports equipment. The 5-foot-3 Kim is an enthusiastic basketball fan; then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented him with a ball signed by Michael Jordan during a rare diplomatic trip in 2000.
Experts said the effort, being coordinated under the United Nations, would be the first ever to curtail a specific category of goods not associated with military buildups or weapons designs. U.S. officials acknowledge that enforcing the ban on black-market trading would be difficult.
The population in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated economies, is impoverished and routinely suffers widescale food shortages. The new trade ban would forbid U.S. shipments there of Rolexes, French cognac, plasma TVs, yachts and more — all items favored by Kim but unattainable by most of the country.
“It’s a new concept; it’s kind of creative,” said William Reinsch, a former senior Commerce Department official who oversaw trade restrictions with North Korea during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Reinsch predicted governments will comply with the new sanctions, but agreed that efforts to block all underground shipments will be frustrated.
“The problem is there has always been and will always be this group of people who work at getting these goods illegally,” Reinsch said. Small electronics, such as iPods or laptops, are “untraceable and available all over the place,” he said. U.S. exports to North Korea are paltry, amounting to only $5.8 million last year.