US imposes new sanctions on North Korea

On Wednesday the administration of US President Joe Biden imposed its first sanctions over North Korea’s weapons programmes following a series of Pyongyang’s missile launches, including two since last week.

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The sanctions targeted six North Koreans, one Russian citizen and a Russian firm, which according to Washington, were responsible for procuring goods for the programmes from Russia and China.

The US Treasury said the steps aimed both to prevent the advancement of North Korea’s programmes and to impede its attempts to proliferate weapons technologies.

The US also proposed that five of those individuals also be blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council, which would need consensus agreement by the body’s 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.

President Joe Biden’s administration has sought unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear bombs and missiles since taking office in January last year.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US remained committed to pursuing diplomacy with North Korea.

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 Biden’s administration had hardened its position.

“We think the US measures reflect the existing US position that implementing sanctions is also important, together with dialogue,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said during a briefing.

North Korea’s latest launches were “further evidence that it continues to advance prohibited programs despite the international community’s calls for diplomacy and denuclearisation,” US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson emphasised in a statement.

The people sanctioned were: North Koreans O Yong Ho, Choe Myong Hyon, Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak and Pyon Kwang Cho, Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alar and the Russian firm Parsek LLC for “activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery.”

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In a statement, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that between at least 2016 and 2021, O Yong Ho had worked with Parsek LLC and Alar, the firm’s director for development, to procure multiple goods with ballistic missile applications, including Kevlar thread, aramid fibre, aviation oil, ball bearings, and precision milling machines.

Secretary Blinken said that Roman Alar provided O Yong Ho with instructions for creating solid rocket fuel mixtures. “The procurement and supply relationship between O Yong Ho, Roman Anatolyevich Alar, and Parsek LLC is a key source of missile-applicable goods and technology for the DPRK’s missile program,” his statement said.

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.

Tuesday’s test came hours after the US mission to the United Nations, joined by Albania, France, Ireland, Japan and the UK, condemned last week’s launch and called on UN states to fulfil sanctions obligations. UN resolutions ban North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and impose sanctions.

Anthony Ruggiero, a sanctions expert in the former Trump administration that failed to persuade Kim to roll back his nuclear programme despite unprecedented engagement, called the new sanctions “a good start.”

However, he said the President Biden administration had allowed a reversal of sanctions pressure and added that “Biden needs to continue the designations to increase the pressure on the Kim regime.”

Wednesday’s actions freeze any US-related assets of those targeted and prohibit all dealings with them.