U.S. sanctions two senior Pyongyang officials

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U.S. sanctions two senior Pyongyang officials

The United States on Tuesday sanctioned two senior North Korean officials for their involvement in the regime’s illicit ballistic missile program.

The Treasury Department said in a press release it has designated Kim Jong-sik and Ri Pyong-chol, both belonging to the Munitions Industry Department of the North’s Workers’ Party of Korea. Any of their property within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked and American citizens are generally banned from engaging in transactions with them.

Kim is reportedly a key figure in the North’s ballistic missile development, involved in efforts to switch from liquid to solid fuel, while Ri is a lead official in the country’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Treasury said.

“Treasury is targeting leaders of North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, as part of our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the DPRK and achieve a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea launched a new ICBM on Nov. 29, claiming it can carry a nuclear warhead to anywhere on the U.S. mainland. The regime’s latest nuclear test was in September, involving what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb.

“These actions follow Friday’s United Nations Security Council Resolution, which imposed strong new sanctions on North Korea, further shutting down its ability to raise illicit funds,” Mnuchin added.

The resolution, which came in response to the November test, seeks to slash exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea by 89 percent. It passed unanimously with backing from China and Russia, two veto-wielding council members that have traditionally been reluctant to increase sanctions on Pyongyang.

In a phone call Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his U.S. counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that it is “necessary to move from the language of sanctions to the negotiating process as soon as possible,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to AFP.

Lavrov also “highlighted that it is unacceptable to exacerbate tensions around the Korean peninsula with Washington’s aggressive rhetoric toward Pyongyang and increasing military preparations in the region.”

Tensions have run high as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have engaged in a war of words. In the wake of the North’s first two ICBM tests in July and its sixth nuclear test in September, Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” and “totally destroy” the regime if necessary.

Pyongyang has responded with various threats, including detonating a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

The UN Security Council adopted two sets of sanctions in response to the North’s weapons tests in July and September. Friday’s resolution requires UN member states to repatriate North Korean overseas workers within 24 months. Their income is believed to be extorted by Pyongyang to fund the nuclear and ballistic missile programs.It also bans imports of North Korean food, agricultural products, minerals, machinery and electrical equipment to deprive the regime of at least $200 million in annual export revenues.

Both Kim Jong-sik and Ri were blacklisted in the resolution.

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