Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they passed a litmus test: They were deemed to serve American foreign policy goals. And many clearly do, among them deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve Internet connections — and nurture democracy — in Iran. But the examination also found cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear. ...An embarrassingly long list of US companies doing business in or with North Korea can be found here.
In some cases, licensing rules failed to keep pace with changing diplomatic circumstances. For instance, American companies were able to import cheap blouses and raw material for steel from North Korea because restrictions loosened when that government promised to renounce its nuclear weapons program and were not recalibrated after the agreement fell apart.
Still, some say that looking at these "exceptions" misses the larger picture of generally effective sanctions:
In an interview, the Obama administration’s point man on sanctions, Stuart A. Levey, said that focusing on the exceptions “misses the forest for the trees.” Indeed, the exceptions represent only a small counterweight to the overall force of America’s trade sanctions, which are among the toughest in the world. Now they are particularly focused on Iran, where on top of a broad embargo that prohibits most trade, the United States and its allies this year adopted a new round of sanctions that have effectively shut Iran off from much of the international financial system.The Obama administration seems to be serious about sanctions against North Korea, so I wonder if the NYT report will be a wake-up call to them.