NATIONAL

US, North Korea square off over seized trade ship

By Park Han-na
  • Published : May 22, 2019 - 17:02
  • Updated : May 22, 2019 - 17:31

The US State Department on Wednesday reaffirmed that UN sanctions against North Korea will remain in place, after Pyongyang publicly criticized Washington’s “extreme hostile policy” regarding the seizure of its cargo ship, escalating tensions between the two countries amid stalled nuclear talks.

In a rare press conference at the UN in New York on Tuesday, North Korea’s UN Ambassador Kim Song demanded immediate return of the country’s second-largest cargo ship, the Wise Honest, and warned the US of consequences on the future of its relations with Pyongyang.
 

North Korea`s UN Ambassador Kim Song addresses attendees during a news conference at UN headquarters Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap)

The ambassador described the seizure as an “outright denial of the underlying spirit” of a joint statement by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after their first summit in Singapore in 2018, which committed to establishing new bilateral relations.

“The United States has committed an unlawful and egregious act of dispossessing our cargo ship Wise Honest by possibly taking it to American Samoa under the pretext of unilateral sanctions and domestic law,” Kim said. “We are condemning this act of dispossessing our cargo ship, this instance of the extreme hostile policy of the United States."

Responding to requests to comment on the matter, an official at the US State Department said international sanctions will “remain in place (and) are to be enforced by all UN members,” according to Yonhap News Agency and Voice of America.

“As President Trump has said, he believes Chairman Kim will fulfill his commitment to denuclearize, and the United States remains open to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea to make further progress on that goal,” the official said.

The news conference held by Kim Song at the UN was the latest in a series of North Korea’s diplomatic efforts to bring the vessel home since the US Justice department announced on May 8 that it had seized the 177-meter vessel on suspicions of transferring coal and machinery in violation of UN and US sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.

The UN ambassador wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 17 calling for urgent measures against the action. The UN is reviewing the request. 

On May 14, the North’s Foreign Ministry said the UN Security Council resolutions the US mentioned as one of the reasons for “robbing” the trade vessel equate to “a violent infringement of the sovereignty of North Korea.”

Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said there is the possibility that the North would urge the US to resolve the issue before resuming denuclearization talks in earnest.

“What North Korea has been demanding from the US is a withdrawal of Washington’s hostile policy. From Pyongyang’s perspective, the withdrawal of sanctions is the most basic step for building trust. The Wise Honest vessel case could be used as a test run,” Park said.

Avoiding a direct comment on the matter, Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said the government has been faithfully implementing UNSC sanctions against North Korea.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)