WASHINGTON—The Trump administration should use more coercive economic sanctions and smart diplomacy to curb North Korea nuclear and missile threats amid the rising tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, a group of experts say Thursday.

Speaking at the Center for a New American Security, Edward Fishman, a research fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, said despite the fact the North Korean has long been the most sanctioned country in the world, none of the sanctions were tough enough.

Fishman said the United States should capitalize on North Korea’s huge dependence on foreign trade to threaten to blacklist foreign companies that transact with the country.

The U.S has been accelerating its actions to rein in North Korea’s missile threats. The House of Representatives Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that authorizes measures against shipments of crude oil to Pyongyang as well as against North Korean forced labor overseas and online gambling as part of a larger package of sanctions bills also targeting Iran and Russia.

“The benefit of having Congress involved is to impose mandatory sanctions, because when sanctions are mandatory, they really make a threat that would be imposed much more credible,” Fishman said.

But the current economic sanctions don’t appear to have had a meaningful impact in changing North Korea’s policy. A new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense intelligence Agency indicates that North Korea could launch “a reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM” in early 2018, two years earlier than the previously estimated, according to The Washington Post. Pyongyang also vowed to “strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S.” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday.

Patrick Cronin, a senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said that the threats “show the aspirations of what North Korea is trying to build, which is a nuclear-capable ICBM, capable of hitting Washington eventually, the heart of America,” said Cronin. “And what it fears most is the toppling of the Kim family regime.”

Rachel Ziemba, senior research analyst at Roubini Global Economics, warned that the use of key economic issues as leverages for China to curb North Korea can pose challenges to the bilateral relations.

“The way in which key economic terms and legal precedents, particularly around things like currency manipulation, were being used as a trade-off, and if anything, China currency adjustment manipulation has been on the side of benefiting the U.S. trade,” said Ziemba. “The message got to be molded, linkage itself is not bad, but the whole grand bargain looks quite challenging to me.”

Published in conjunction with MarketWatch Logo