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Trump announces new sanctions on North Korea as Olympics wind down

by Ali Vitali /  / Updated 
Image: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media prior to his departure from the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media prior to his departure from the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.Alex Wong / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — The United States has leveled its "heaviest sanctions ever" against North Korea, targeting the regime's shipping and trading abilities, President Donald Trump said Friday at the tail end of an address to a conservative gathering.

According to early excerpts from the president's remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump was expected to announce the new "largest ever" package of sanctions against the North timed just as the Winter Olympics come to a close in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang. The president, however, gave his administration's actions to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions only a brief mention toward the end of his speech, which lasted well over an hour.

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"Hopefully something positive can happen," Trump said. "But that was just announced and I want to let you know. We have imposed the heaviest sanctions ever imposed."

Asked Friday afternoon what he would do if the new sanctions don't work to curtail North Korea's aggression, Trump said a "phase two" could be the next step.

"Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very unfortunate for the world," Trump told reporters at the White House.

In his prepared CPAC remarks, Trump noted that the sanctions targeting 56 total shipping companies, businesses and shipping vessels will "further cut off sources of revenue and fuel that the regime uses to fund its nuclear program and sustain its military."

One day earlier, Vice President Mike Pence used his platform at the conference to remind attendees that the United States "doesn't stand with murderous dictatorships, we stand up to murderous dictatorships." Pence's comments come after his trip to the Olympic opening ceremonies earlier this month, where he sat during the playing of the North Korean national anthem.

Despite the tough talk, however, the vice president's office later confirmed to NBC News that a pre-planned meeting in Pyeongchang between Pence and North Korean delegates (including North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yong Nam) was derailed because North Korea backed out hours before the meeting was set to take place.

Trump's remarks Friday, in which he careened between a scripted speech and off-the-cuff commentary, were reminiscent of the campaign rallies that propelled him into office and dominated cable news throughout the 2016 election. He reiterated promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and gave a dramatic reading of a song called "The Snake" meant to teach a lesson on the need for greater border security.

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