US, North Korea square off over seized trade ship

North Korean vessel, the Wise Honest, which was seized by the United States and towed into harbor in American Samoa. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In a rare press conference at the UN in New York on Tuesday (May 21), North Korea's UN Ambassador Kim Song demanded the immediate return of the country's second-largest cargo ship, the Wise Honest, and warned the US of consequences on the future of its relations with Pyongyang.

The ambassador described the seizure as an "outright denial of the underlying spirit" of a joint statement by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after their first summit in Singapore in 2018, which committed to establishing new bilateral relations.

"The United States has committed an unlawful and egregious act of dispossessing our cargo ship Wise Honest by possibly taking it to American Samoa under the pretext of unilateral sanctions and domestic law," Mr Kim said.

"We are condemning this act of dispossessing our cargo ship, this instance of the extreme hostile policy of the United States."

Responding to requests to comment on the matter, an official at the US State Department said international sanctions will "remain in place (and) are to be enforced by all UN members", according to Yonhap News Agency and Voice of America.

"As President Trump has said, he believes Chairman Kim will fulfil his commitment to denuclearise, and the United States remains open to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea to make further progress on that goal," the official said.

The news conference held by Mr Kim Song at the UN was the latest in a series of North Korea's diplomatic efforts to bring the vessel home since the US Justice department announced on May 8 that it had seized the 177-metre vessel on suspicions of transferring coal and machinery in violation of UN and US sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.

The UN ambassador wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 17 calling for urgent measures against the action. The UN is reviewing the request.

On May 14, the North's Foreign Ministry said the UN Security Council resolutions the US mentioned as one of the reasons for "robbing" the trade vessel equate to "a violent infringement of the sovereignty of North Korea".

Dr Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said there is the possibility that the North would urge the US to resolve the issue before resuming denuclearisation talks in earnest.

"What North Korea has been demanding from the US is a withdrawal of Washington's hostile policy. From Pyongyang's perspective, the withdrawal of sanctions is the most basic step for building trust. The Wise Honest vessel case could be used as a test run," Mr Park said.

Avoiding a direct comment on the matter, Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said the government has been faithfully implementing UNSC sanctions against North Korea.

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