North Korea has warned that new U.S. sanctions on three of its top officials could “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever” and could result in a return to “exchanges of fire.”
The warning came days after the Treasury Department imposed the fresh sanctions on the three – who include Choe Ryong Hae, seen as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s right hand-man – citing continuing human rights abuses, censorship and the death last year of American prisoner Otto Warmbier.
The statement, issued on Sunday by North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave credit to President Donald Trump, saying he “avails himself of every possible occasion to state his willingness to improve DPRK-U.S. relations.” The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – or DPRK – is the official name of North Korea.
However, it accused the State Department of being “bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”
Trump has frequently praised Kim, saying in September that the North’s leader was “terrific” and that the two “fell in love” after their historic summit in Singapore in June.
Their summit produced an agreement that North Korea would work toward a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while the U.S. promised to provide security guarantees.
But more than six months later, there has been little tangible progress.
Pyongyang is looking for relief from punishing international sanctions and an agreement for a formal end to the Korean War, while Washington is holding out for complete denuclearization first, sticking to its “maximum pressure” strategy on the economic and diplomatic fronts.
In the meantime, satellite imagery has shown that North Korea is continuing with its nuclear and missile programs.
“The U.S. should realize before it is too late that ‘maximum pressure’ would not work against us,” the North’s statement said. It proposed that relations be improved “on a step-by-step approach.”