Sat, Feb 24, 2018 - Page 1 News List

US to issue new N Korea sanctions: official

Reuters, SEOUL and WASHINGTON

South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Baik Tae-hyun speaks at a media briefing in Seoul yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

The US is expected to announce its largest package of sanctions yet against North Korea to further pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs, as South Korea readies itself for more talks with the North’s officials.

Tougher sanctions might jeopardize the latest detente between the two Koreas amid their preparations to create conditions appropriate to hold a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

A senior US official, who spoke to reporters 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 Winter Olympics.

Kim said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea after a high-level delegation including his sister returned from the Winter Olympics.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN sanctions.

However, it has now been more than two months since its last missile test in late November last year.

The new US sanctions are to be announced while Trump’s daughter Ivanka is visiting South Korea to attend a dinner with Moon and the closing ceremony of the Games.

In addition to the dinner, which is to feature a kosher menu for Ivanka’s dietary restrictions, the Blue House has planned a small traditional Korean music performance for her delegation.

Her visit coincides with that of a sanctioned North Korean official, Kim Yong-chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a Republic of Korea Navy vessel that killed 46 sailors. His delegation is also to meet with Moon.

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

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

North Korea has denied any involvement in the sinking.

South Korea yesterday said it approved the Winter Olympic visit by Kim Yong-chol in the pursuit of peace and asked for public understanding.

“Under current difficult circumstances, we have decided to focus on whether peace on the Korean Peninsula and improvement in inter-Korean relations can be derived from dialogue with [the visiting North Korean officials], not on their past or who they are,” South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a media briefing.

A South Korean lawmaker briefed by the country’s spy agency yesterday said that Kim Yong-chol was the “right person” for inter-Korean and denuclearization 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 denuclearization,” South Korean lawmaker Kang Seok-ho told reporters.

Kim Yong-chol currently heads the United Front Department, the North’s office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.

South Korea’s decision on Thursday to allow Kim Yong-chol, who has been sanctioned by the US and South Korea, across the border has sparked protest from family members of the dead Cheonan sailors and opposition parties.

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