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Pyongyang’s UN office gets mad about a U.S. missive

July 05,2019
Pyongyang accused Washington of being “hell-bent” on hostility in a protest Wednesday against United Nations (UN) sanctions calling for the repatriation of North Korean overseas workers.

The North Korean mission to the UN in New York issued a statement lashing out at the U.S. State Department for circulating a letter to all UN member states Saturday - the same day U.S. President Donald Trump proposed over Twitter a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

In the English-language press release, North Korea accused the United States of being “practically more and more hell-bent on the hostile acts against the DPRK, though talking about the DPRK-U.S. dialogue.”

DPRK is the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The letter, which was jointly written by the United States, Britain, France and Germany, was sent out on June 29, according to the North’s statement, and called for the “repatriation of the DPRK workers abroad,” which the statement said is “inciting an atmosphere of sanctions and pressure.”

It added, “What can’t be overlooked is the fact that this joint letter game was carried out by the Permanent Mission of the United States to the UN under the instruction of the State Department, on the very same day when President Trump proposed for the summit meeting.”

Kim and Trump held their third meeting at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on Sunday, agreeing to resume working-level denuclearization talks that have been stalled since their failed second summit in Vietnam on Feb. 28.

Trump had been on a two-day trip to Seoul for a summit with President Moon Jae-in after a Group of 20 forum in Osaka, Japan.

The U.S.-led letter circulated in the UN and urged member states to comply with UN Security Council sanctions and repatriate all North Korean workers by Dec. 22. It was actually dated June 27, according to diplomatic sources, one day before Trump’s surprise tweet proposing a meeting with Kim. Thus, the timing was more likely coincidental than deliberate on the part of the U.S. State Department.

Yet some analysts believe such diplomatic tension could hinder the resumption of working-level North-U.S. talks. As Pyongyang and Washington do not have formal diplomatic ties, the so-called New York channel - or the North Korean mission to the UN - serves as an indirect means of communication between the two countries.

Trump has put U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in charge of the negotiations with the North, and Stephen Biegun, the top nuclear envoy for North Korea, will lead lower-level meetings when they resume.

North Korean overseas workers, mostly in China and Russia, are considered sources of hard cash for the regime.

Security Council Resolution 2397, adopted on Dec. 22, 2017, calls for countries to repatriate all North Korean nationals earning incomes “no later than 24 months from the date of adoption of this resolution.”

Last month, the United States and 23 countries including South Korea sent a letter dated June 11 to the Security Council sanctions committee, alleging that North Korea has exceeded its cap on refined petroleum imports through illicit ship-to-ship transfers in violation of UN sanctions.

The North Korean mission to the UN in its statement Wednesday said that Washington circulated the letter on June 29 because the previous letter “failed to work in its favor.”

Pyongyang added that it is “ridiculous” for Washington to be “obsessed” with the pressure campaign and consider sanctions as a “panacea for all problems.”

But it also insisted, “We do not thirst for lifting of sanctions” and noted that countries have to “keep vigilance” against attempts by Washington to “undermine the peaceful atmosphere that has been created on the Korean Peninsula.”

Such remarks indicated North Korea is still hopeful about denuclearization dialogue. Pyongyang has favored a top-down approach and has been careful not to directly insult Trump. The North notably expressed its disgruntlement through a press release from its mission to the UN rather than through its official media or quoting a Foreign Ministry senior official.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]