WASHINGTON • The Biden administration has imposed its first sanctions over North Korea's weapons programmes following a series of missile launches from the reclusive country, including two since last week.
The sanctions targeted six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian company that Washington said were responsible for procuring goods for the programmes from Russia and China.
The actions freeze any US-related assets of those targeted and prohibit all dealings with them.
The United States Treasury said the steps aimed to prevent the advancement of North Korea's weapons programmes and to impede its attempts to proliferate weapons technologies.
The US also proposed that five of those people be blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council, which would need consensus agreement by the body's 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has sought unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear bombs and missiles since Mr Biden took office in January last year.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington remained committed to pursuing diplomacy with North Korea.
The Treasury said on Wednesday that the sanctions followed six North Korean ballistic missile launches since September last year, each of which violated UN Security Council resolutions.
South Korea, a US ally that has pushed Washington to back more engagement with North Korea, said it did not believe the move meant that Mr Biden's administration had hardened its position.
"We think the US measure reflected the existing US position that implementing sanctions is also important, together with dialogue," a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
US Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said the moves targeted North Korea's "continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure goods for weapons".
Pyongyang's latest launches were "further evidence that it continues to advance prohibited programmes despite the international community's calls for diplomacy and denuclearisation", he said.
The State Department had designated Russia-based North Korean Choe Myong Hyon, Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alar, and Russian firm Parsek for "activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery".
Choe, a representative of North Korea's Second Academy of Natural Sciences, had worked to procure telecommunications-related equipment from Russia.
Also targeted were China-based North Korean representatives of the academy's subordinate organisations - Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak and Pyon Kwang Chol - and another Russia-based North Korean, O Yong Ho.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Alar - Parsek's director for development - provided O with instructions for creating solid rocket fuel mixtures.
"The procurement and supply relationship between O Yong Ho, Alar and Parsek is a key source of missile-applicable goods and technology for the DPRK's missile programme," Mr Blinken said, using the official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
His statement also said O had worked to procure items such as aramid fibre, stainless steel tubes and ball bearings from "third countries", which it did not name.
North Korea's UN mission, Russia's and China's embassies in Washington, and Parsek did not respond to requests for comment.
North Korean media said leader Kim Jong Un observed the test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, the second in less than a week after he vowed in a New Year speech to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology.
Mr Price did not respond when asked why no Chinese individuals or entities were targeted, or specifically when asked if China and Russia were doing enough to enforce sanctions, but stressed the importance of all UN states doing so.