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North Korea threatens to return to ‘exchanges of fire’ over US sanctions

Adam Forrest
Pyongyang residents prepare to bow before statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il during National Memorial Day on Sunday: AFP/Getty Images

North Korea has condemned the US for its latest sanctions, threatening to “block the path” of denuclearisation and return to “exchanges of fire”.

Pyongyang’s warning came after the US State Department announced that it had imposed sanctions on three North Korean officials – including a top aide to leader Kim Jong-un – for alleged human rights abuses.

Little progress has been made on denuclearising North Korea since US President Donald Trump met Mr Kim in Singapore in June. Scheduled talks between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were cancelled abruptly in November.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the US was “bent on bringing the DPRK-US relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

Imposing more sanctions as a means of pressuring Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, “will count as (its) greatest miscalculation, and it will block the path to denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula forever – a result desired by no one,” according to the foreign ministry statement.

It also said that Washington had taken “sanctions measures for as many as eight times against the companies, individuals and ships of not only the DPRK but also Russia, China and other third countries.”

The ministry did, however, credit Mr Trump for his “willingness” to improve relations with North Korea.

The US State Department and US Treasury announced last week that the US assets of Mr Kim’s aide Choe Ryong-hae, security minister Jong Kyong-thaek and propaganda official Pak Kwang-ho would all be seized.

On Sunday, North Koreans marked National Memorial Day – the seventh anniversary of the death of Mr Kim’s father Kim Jong Il – with visits to various statues and vows of loyalty to his successor.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency published a lengthy commentary on the anniversary accusing the US of “slander” and “sheer malice” in the months since the June summit in Singapore.

It reserved its criticism for the US State Department and administration officials, however, rather than making any personal attacks against Mr Trump.

Additional reporting by agencies