US to announce fresh sanctions against N. Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae In with Ms Ivanka Trump at the Blue House yesterday. The US sanctions will be announced while Ms Trump is visiting South Korea.
South Korean President Moon Jae In with Ms Ivanka Trump at the Blue House yesterday. The US sanctions will be announced while Ms Trump is visiting South Korea.

Largest package of sanctions could jeopardise warming ties between two Koreas

SEOUL/WASHINGTON • The United States is due to announce its largest package of sanctions against North Korea to pressure the reclusive country into giving up its nuclear and missile programmes, as South Korea readies for further talks with its the North's leaders.

Tougher sanctions could jeopardise the latest detente between the two Koreas, illustrated by the North's participation in the Winter Olympics in the South. The sanctions also come during preparations for talks about a possible summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In.

A senior US administration official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, called the new penalties "the largest package of new sanctions against the North Korea regime", without giving details.

US Vice-President Mike Pence had hinted at such a plan two weeks ago during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

North Korea last year conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the US. It defends the weapons programmes as essential to deter US aggression.

But it has been more than two months since its last missile test.

The North's leader said he wants to boost the "warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue" with South Korea, which hosts 28,500 US troops, after a high-level delegation, including his sister, returned from the Olympics.

In an extension of that rapprochement, the North agreed yesterday to hold working-level talks on Tuesday next week for the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics on the North's side of the border village of Panmunjom.

The US sanctions will be announced while Mr Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is visiting South Korea. She had dinner with Mr Moon after a closed-door meeting with the President yesterday and will attend the Games' closing ceremony.

"I thank you for hosting us all here tonight as we reaffirm our bonds of friendship, cooperation and partnership and reaffirm our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean peninsula is denuclearised," she told Mr Moon before heading inside the dinner venue at the Blue House.

Mr Moon expressed his gratitude towards President Trump, saying ongoing talks with North Korea were thanks to Mr Trump's "strong support".

Ms Trump's visit coincides with that of a sanctioned North Korean official, Mr Kim Yong Chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. His delegation will attend the closing ceremony and also meet Mr Moon.

The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for US and North Korean officials to meet.

A senior US administration official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, called the new penalties "the largest package of new sanctions against the North Korea regime", without giving details.

Mr Kim Yong Chol is vice-chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee and was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency, which South Korea blamed for the sinking of its navy corvette, the Cheonan.

The North has denied any involvement.

A South Korean lawmaker briefed by the country's spy agency said yesterday that Mr Kim Yong Chol was the "right person" for inter-Korean and denuclearisation talks.

"Kim Yong Chol is the top official regarding inter-Korean relations and he is being accepted (here) as the right person to discuss various issues like easing military tension, improving inter-Korean ties and denuclearisation," said Mr Kang Seok Ho to reporters.

Mr Kim Yong Chol heads the United Front Department, the North's office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.

South Korea's decision on Thursday to allow in Mr Kim Yong Chol, currently sanctioned by the US and South Korea, sparked protests from family members of the dead sailors and opposition parties. A group of family members of those killed in the Cheonan sinking said it will hold a press conference today.

Many South Koreans have been angered at the North's participation at the Games, which they say has been a reward for bad behaviour with no quid pro quo from Pyongyang.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'US to announce fresh sanctions against N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe