North Korea lashed out this weekend at the United States over the latest round of sanctions, warning that increased pressure tactics will “block the path” to denuclearization.
The strongly worded statement from the foreign ministry came nearly a week after the Treasury Department blacklisted three North Korean officials, including a top aide to leader Kim Jong Un, for serious human rights abuses and censorship.
The U.S. administration has insisted it will maintain the policy it calls “maximum pressure” even as it engages in a diplomatic offensive to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang says it should be rewarded for steps already taken since Kim and President Donald Trump made a vague promise to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” at their June 12 summit in Singapore.
Trump has maintained optimism despite little evidence of progress in nuclear talks since the summit.
“Many people have asked how we are doing in our negotiations with North Korea – I always reply by saying we are in no hurry, there is wonderful potential for great economic success for that country,” he tweeted on Friday. “Kim Jong Un sees it better than anyone and will fully take advantage of it for his people. We are doing just fine!”
The state-run Korean Central News Agency was careful to praise Trump in its report Sunday, noting he “avails himself of every possible occasion to state his willingness to improve [North Korean]-U.S. relations.”
But it heaped criticism on the State Department and Treasury for imposing sanctions against North Korea, Russia, China and other countries “by fabricating pretexts of all hues such as money laundering, illegal transactions through ship-to-ship transfer and cyber-attack.”
“The United States will not be unaware of the self-evident fact that its threat, blackmail and pressure against the other side cannot be a solution,” the policy research director of the ministry’s Institute for American Studies was quoted as saying.
“Deterioration of the situation that might be incurred by these hostile actions would not be beneficial for peace and security of the Korean peninsula and beyond,” it said, calling for “a step-by-step approach” and confidence building measures.
The report warned that increased sanctions and pressure would be the “greatest miscalculation” and “it will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever – a result desired by no one.”
“The U.S. should realize before it is too late that “maximum pressure” would not work against us,” it said.
The sanctions imposed last week against Kim’s aide Ryong Hae Choe, State Security Minister Kyong Thaek Jong and Propaganda and Agitation Department chief Kwang Ho Pak freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar them from transactions with anyone in the United States.
The State Department also released a biannual report on human rights abuses in North Korea, saying they “remain among the worst in the world and include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.”
North Korea denies such allegations and blames sanctions for its humanitarian problems.
For more than a decade, the communist state has faced numerous rounds of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council as well as unilateral U.S. measures aimed at punishing it for developing nuclear weapons despite resolutions banning it from doing so.
The Trump administration tightened the noose as the North demonstrated strong progress with a series of missile and nuclear tests, raising fears of a new war. Tensions eased this year as the two sides engaged in unprecedented diplomacy with South Korea playing mediator.
North Korea insists it has taken steps toward denuclearization, pointing to a testing moratorium since it last fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017 and the destruction of its main nuclear testing facility.
However, experts say those measures are likely reversible and satellite images show the communist state continues with its weapons development.
The 38 North website, which monitors North Korean activities, said last week that the mountainous Punggye-ri nuclear test site may not have been destroyed as claimed despite past nuclear detonations and a highly publicized demolition of the entrance.
“The extent of the destruction of those areas irrespective of North Koreas closing of the tunnel portals remains unclear,” it said. “As a result, they could potentially be reopened, or new tunnels could be excavated nearby should Pyongyang decide to resume testing.”
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