8 North Korean banks, 26 individuals targeted as tensions continue to simmer

The U.S. on Tuesday continued to apply economic pressure on North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, sanctioning eight banks and 26 individuals.

All of the individuals are linked to North Korean financial networks, according to the Treasury Department that said they operate on behalf of North Korean banks in China, Russia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

“We are targeting North Korean banks and financial facilitators acting as representatives for North Korean banks across the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “This further advances our strategy to fully isolate North Korea in order to achieve our broader objectives of a peaceful and denuclearized Korean peninsula."

Mnuchin's department listed the eight banks as the Agricultural Development Bank, Cheil Credit Bank, Hana Banking Corporation Ltd, International Industrial Development Bank, Jinmyong Joint Bank, Jinsong Joint Bank, Koryo Commercial Bank Ltd and Ryugyong Commercial Bank.

The economic penalties come as President Donald Trump again warned if the U.S. takes military action "it will be devastating. 

"That's called the military option. If we have to take it we will," Trump said during a joint press conference with Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. 

Trump maintained, however, the U.S. would prefer not to pursue the option, but said if it has to Washington is "totally prepared for it”. 

The comments are the latest episode in the escalating war of words between the U.S. and North Korea. 

Earlier Tuesday, South Korea insisted Seoul and Washington remain committed to a joint objective of a “complete nuclear dismantlement [of North Korea] in a peaceful manner."

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry’s statement quoted by Yonhap News Agency came hours after Pyongyang’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho accused Trump of declaring war in a tweet Saturday that asserted North Korea’s regime "won't be around much longer."

"As long as the U.S. has declared war, from now on, even if U.S. strategic bombers don't fly into our airspace, we will hold all the rights to self-defense, including the right to shoot them down at a time of our discretion. We will see then who lasts longer," Ri told reporters in New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly.

The White House dismissed Pyongyang's claim as "absurd."

But U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers and F-15C fighter jets did fly closer to the North on Saturday than ever before in the 21st century.

Seoul's National Intelligence Service (NIS) revealed Tuesday the American fly-by appeared to have taken North Korea by surprise as the reclusive state showed no sign of an immediate response.

Parliamentary intelligence committee chief Lee Cheol-woo revealed to local media that lawmakers were told by the National Intelligence Service that "as the flight was close to midnight, the North might have not anticipated it at all, or the North might have been unable to take action as its radar or other systems could not clearly detect it."

He added that North Korea seems to be doing all it can to avoid provoking a war along the inter-Korean border -- the NIS understands that Pyongyang has directed its armed forces to "report first before taking any military measures."

Secretary of Rex Tillerson is expected to address the ongoing crisis with Chinese leaders during a four-day trip to Beijing that begins Sept. 28.

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