Washington sanctions Pyongyang for chemical weapons

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Washington sanctions Pyongyang for chemical weapons

The United States imposed yet another set of sanctions on North Korea Monday as Seoul tries to bring the two countries to the discussion table, this time saying North Korea used chemical weapons against its own nationals in violation of international law.

The sanctions, announced by the U.S. State Department and published in its Federal Register, carry restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, financial aid and arms sales, adding to the pile of other punitive measures to which the regime is already subject.

Very few, if any, tangible changes on North Korea are expected to come from the new sanctions, but the announcement came at a sensitive time for Seoul, as a 10-member delegation from South Korea, including five presidential envoys, was visiting Pyongyang to discuss an inter-Korean summit and broker a meeting between the United States and North Korea.

Washington’s latest move, according to local analysts, appears to be a tactical gambit to up the ante for a better hand in future talks with the regime. The State Department did not explain how it reached the conclusion that North Korea used chemical weapons on its own nationals, neither did it give any names of victims, but the only known case is Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose assassination last year garnered massive media attention.

The eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-nam was killed on Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia by VX nerve agent, an internationally banned chemical weapon classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. Kim Jong-un was suspected to have masterminded the plot, though the North never admitted to the murder.

On Tuesday, the Voice of America (VOA) cited Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, as saying Washington will not hesitate to levy unilateral sanctions against entities that continue to support the North in contravention of UN sanctions, adding it was “absolutely clear that Russia needs to do more.”

The remark was in response to a Washington Post article last Saturday that North Korea was flouting UN trade sanctions by having its coal “laundered” through Russia on its way to South Korea and Japan, a covert operation contained in a UN report due for release later this month.

At least four ships were busted in August and September, according to the report, after the United Nations banned all exports of North Korean coal in response to the regime’s earlier intercontinental ballistic missile test.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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