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US sanctions three North Korean officials tied to weapons of mass destruction program

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

The US Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned three North Korean officials tied to the nation’s weapons of mass destruction program.

The sanctions come in the wake of a barrage of missile launches from Pyongyang, including an intercontinental ballistic missile launch on November 18 — its eighth ICBM launch this year.

“Treasury is taking action in close trilateral coordination with the Republic of Korea and Japan against officials who have had leading roles in the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a news release, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Recent launches demonstrate the need for all countries to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions, which are intended to prevent the DPRK from acquiring the technologies, materials, and revenue Pyongyang needs to develop its prohibited WMD and ballistic missile capabilities,” Nelson said.

The US sanctions target Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin and Kim Su Gil, three officials in the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

In a separate statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “the European Union (EU) designated all three earlier this year, noting that Jon and Yu both have played a role in the DPRK’s WMD programs and have participated in multiple ballistic missile launches, while Kim has been responsible for the implementation of WPK decisions related to the development of the DPRK’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

“These steps also underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale, and scope of ballistic missile launches,” Blinken said.

In a separate announcement Friday, South Korea said it would impose independent sanctions on eight North Korean individuals and seven organizations connected to Pyongyang’s weapons development program and the evasion of sanctions.

“Our government will continue to strengthen cooperation with relevant countries to ensure a united and strong response by the international community, including additional sanctions, regarding North Korea’s grave provocations,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.

Kim’s nuclear ambitions

US officials have repeatedly condemned North Korea’s missile launches as violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions and threats to international peace and stability.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Saturday that his country aims to have “the world’s most powerful” nuclear force as he promoted dozens of military personnel involved in the recent launch of a new ballistic missile, state news agency KCNA reported on Sunday.

Pentagon press secretary Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday, “We know that North Korea has said that they will likely conduct a nuclear test again, that would be very destabilizing.”

“And I think you’ve seen the United States as well as other countries in the region to include the Republic of Korea and Japan highlight the fact that there would be consequences for that. Again, I’m not going to go into that. But we would hope that North Korea would not conduct such destabilizing activity,” he said.

The Biden administration has repeatedly tried to engage directly with North Korea, but Pyongyang has “not responded substantively,” a US senior administration official told CNN in early November.

The attempts at engagement have been through a variety of means, including private bilateral channels, third parties, and public messaging, the official said.

The official declined to go into further specifics, citing the sensitivity of the communications, but said what Pyongyang has done and said “makes clear that they are not interested in diplomacy.”

The administration is “very confident” that the messages are making it to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they’re making public reference to why they’re refusing to talk to us,” the official said.

“This is not something where we’re wondering, gee, is our message getting through or are they making it all the way to the top? We’re very confident because we’ve seen Kim Jong Un himself refer to our efforts to seek dialogue and diplomacy,” they added.

The official would not say if there is a scenario in which the United States would stop seeking dialogue without preconditions.

“We believe very fundamentally that having dialogue is extremely important, and we need to look for ways in which we can understand and have them tell us what they’re looking for, and we can tell them what we’re looking for, and see if there are ways to make progress,” the official said. “This is ultimately their decision to refuse to start the process.”

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CNN’s Radina Gigova, Larry Register and Gawon Bae contributed to this report.

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