U.S. mulls hitting North pocketbook on launch

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U.S. mulls hitting North pocketbook on launch

The U.S. is considering imposing an additional financial sanction on North Korea if the regime pushes ahead with its proposed rocket launch next month, Seoul officials told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The officials said the new financial sanction would likely be as severe as the 2005 sanction on Banco Delta Asia, a Macao-based bank suspected of helping the North’s money laundering and counterfeit currency trafficking.

“The U.S. sees the North’s planned launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite as a grave issue and outright violation not only of the Feb. 29 agreement but also of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1874 that bans a North ballistic missile launch,” said a high-ranking South Korean government official. The U.S. is “reviewing a financial sanction like the one on Banco Delta Asia, as far as I understand,” the official said.

The sanction by the U.S. Treasury Department froze $25 million in North Korean assets at the Macao bank and stopped major international banks from doing business with it. The measure is assessed to have squeezed the North more than any other single sanction on the country, and the North cried foul about it at almost every international talk it could find until the sanction was lifted.

The U.S. is deeply concerned over the North’s long-range missiles that could reach as far as the west coast of the U.S., the officials said. The latest missile plan, disclosed last Friday, also came after a Washington-Pyongyang agreement in February to trade 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid for the North’s measures including the suspension of nuclear programs and long-range missile tests.

“Obviously, we were heartened that every single one of the six-party talks participants made clear that they think that this would be an extremely bad idea and a violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” said Victoria Nuland, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, on Monday.

“So we are hoping and expecting that the DPRK will take that to heart,” she said.

The North has reiterated that the launch, which it scheduled for between April 12-16, is for civilian purposes.

“The launch of the working satellite is an issue fundamentally different from that of a long-range missile,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said late Monday.

China, which expressed concern over the launch plan, is also upping pressure on the North to drop the plan. Wu Dawei, China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, met Ri Yong-ho, North Korea’s nuclear envoy, in China on Monday and requested the North reconsider the plan.

Japan, concerned over the North’s missile flying over its territory, has closely followed the latest North missile launch plan. Japan’s Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said on Monday that the country would consider shooting down the rocket if it passes over Japan’s territory. Japan is also considering deploying its Aegis-class warships, carrying surface-to-air PAC-2 Patriot missiles, in the South China Sea, NHK reported.

NHK also reported yesterday that foreign ministers from South Korea, China and Japan will have a trilateral meeting in China early next month to discuss the North’s missile launch, among other things. The broadcaster expected the three foreign ministers to demand in unison that the North refrain from the launch, raising concern that it would damage stability in East Asia.

By Kim Su-jeong, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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