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Washington sanctions North munitions official

July 31,2019
The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned a foreign-based North Korean munitions official in Washington’s first official measure toward Pyongyang since its missile launches last week.

According to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control(OFAC), Kim Su-il, a “trading company official who works on behalf of the [North’s Munitions Industry Department (MID)]” was placed on the department’s black list for exporting industrial material to and from North Korea while operating in Vietnam.

“As of early 2019, Kim Su-il was responsible for exporting anthracite coal, titanium ore concentrate and other North Korean domestic products; importing and exporting various other goods, including raw materials, to and from North Korea; and ship chartering,” read an Office of Foreign Assets Control press release. “This trade activity earned foreign currency for the North Korean regime.”

Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the blacklisting of Kim was meant as enforcement of existing United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions and the sanctions of the United States against the North. “Kim Su-il has violated [UN Security Council resolutions] and supports North Korea’s weapons program,” she said.

The Treasury also identified Kim, 34, as responsible for exporting Vietnamese products to China and North Korea while assigned to Ho Chi Minh City to perform “economic, trading, mining and shipping activities associated with the MID’s business activities.”

The MID is believed to be a key agency in North Korea’s missile program, involved in tests of its Hwasong series intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and its latest firing of two short-range ballistic missiles from its eastern coast last Thursday.

In April, Pyongyang tested a similar weapon, believed to be a local variant of the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander, under the direct supervision of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kim was accompanied by Ri Pyong-chol and Kim Jong-sik, two senior officials of the MID who were blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department in December 2017 shortly after the country tested the Hwasong-15 ICBM a month earlier.

A figure believed to be close to Kim Jong-un, Ri was identified by the Treasury Department as a central figure in the North’s ICBM development while Kim Jong-sik, a veteran rocket scientist, was instrumental in developing the country’s ballistic missiles, including efforts to switch from liquid to solid fuel.

Compared to the blacklisting of such key officials in past, the Treasury’s sanction on Monday was of an apparently younger and lower-ranking figure in Kim Su-il. This suggests a toned-down response to the North’s newest provocation to avoid angering the regime and endangering the restarting of denuclearization talks.

No date has been scheduled for talks to resume, which U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un agreed to at their snap meeting in Panmunjom last month. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the resumption could be affected if the United States moves forward with joint military exercises with South Korea scheduled for August.

After the country test-fired short-range missiles last Thursday, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho reportedly declined to attend the Asean Regional Forum, which is scheduled to begin this Friday in Bangkok. Ri Yong-ho had been widely expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of the event. His last minute cancellation wasn’t a good sign for talks resuming.

At the Economic Club in Washington on Monday, Pompeo remained hopeful that discussions with the North could occur “very soon” in spite of the country’s missile tests, which he said could be a subject on which the two parties will “sit down and have a conversation” about.

Pompeo, however, also reiterated the Trump administration’s commitment to its so-called maximum pressure campaign on the North, adding that the United States would be “mindful that we are the steward for enforcing” international sanctions.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]