Obama’s new sanctionsThe United States slapped fresh sanctions on North Korea as part of a “proportional” response to its suspected hacking of Sony Pictures’ Hollywood studio and threats against movie theatres. President Barack Obama signed an executive order to deny financial system access to three North Korean government agencies and businesses and 10 individuals who could be a threat to U.S. citizens and entities. Washington has pledged action against Pyongyang citing evidence by the FBI that blames North Korea for the crippling of Sony’s computer networks as it was preparing to release “The Interview,” a comedy centered on a plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Signing the executive order was one of the first things Obama did upon returning from a year-end holiday break. This suggests Washington regards cyberthreats as dangerous as physical provocations against its people and territory. It specifically listed North Korea’s intelligence body the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation and Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, which the United States suspects to be in charge of procurement for North Korea’s defense research and development programs. Also named were individuals in the organizations, government and Workers’ Party with responsibilities in nuclear, missile and cyberwarfare.
The new moves won’t greatly affect North Korea as it remains reclusive and is already under multilateral international sanctions. But they carry the symbolic message that Washington won’t abandon its hard-line stance against Pyongyang and dash any hopes for improvement in bilateral ties in the last years of the Obama administration.
North Korean leader Kim has completed the official three-year mourning for his deceased father Kim Jong-il. He indicated in his New Year’s address that he was open to any form of inter-Korean dialogue including summit talks. He clearly manifested that he wants out of his economic plight.
But no rapprochement and overtures from Pyongyang will be taken seriously unless the country gives up military and cyber provocations in the name of protecting its regime. North Korea will be able to improve its relationship with the United States and the rest of the world only through dialogue with South Korea. It must stop its word games and respond to talks. The Seoul government must make the most of the dialogue momentum to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 5, Page 30