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Biden puts the first sanctions on North Korea’s weapons development

A missile is launched during what state media report is a hypersonic missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, January 11, 2022, in this photo released January 12, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

Following a string of North Korean missile launches, including two in the last week, the Biden administration imposed its first sanctions on the country’s nuclear development on Wednesday.

The news: Six North Koreans, one Russian, and a Russian corporation were singled out by Washington as being responsible for obtaining materials for the programmes from Russia and China.

  • The moves, according to the US Treasury, were taken to halt the growth of North Korea’s programmes as well as its attempts to spread nuclear technology.
  • The US also requested that the UN Security Council blacklist five of those individuals, which would require unanimous consent by the UN Security Council’s 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.

What’s going on: Since assuming office in January last year, US President Joe Biden’s administration has tried unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in discussion in order to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles.

  • According to US State Department spokesman Ned Price, the US is committed to diplomacy with North Korea.
  • The penalties were imposed in response to six North Korean ballistic missile launches since September, all of which violated UN Security Council resolutions, according to the Treasury Department.
  • South Korea, a close ally of the United States that has pressed Washington to support increased dialogue with North Korea, said the decision did not indicate that Biden’s administration had stiffened its stance.
  • The steps were aimed at North Korea’s nuclear programme continuing use of overseas intermediaries to obtain weapons illegally.
  • North Korea’s newest launches are more evidence that it continues to develop illegal programmes despite international pleas for negotiation and denuclearization.
  • The State Department has designated North Korean Choe Myong Hyon, Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alar, and the Russian company Parsek LLC for “activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery,” according to the statement.
  • Choe Myong Hyon, a representative of North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS) based in Vladivostok, was reported to have worked to obtain telecommunications-related technology from Russia, according to the report.
  • Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak, and Pyon Kwang Chol, four North Korean representatives of SANS-subordinate organisations stationed in China, and one more North Korean living in Russia, O Yong Ho, were also targeted.
  • Sim Kwang Sok, headquartered in Dalian, was in charge of procuring steel alloys, while Kim Song Hun, based in Shenyang, was in charge of software and chemicals, according to Treasury.

What they’re saying: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that between at least 2016 and 2021, O Yong Ho worked with Parsek LLC and Alar, the firm’s director for development, to procure a variety of ballistic missile-related goods, including Kevlar thread, aramid fibre, aviation oil, ball bearings, and precision milling machines.

  • Alar also sent O Yong Ho details on how to make solid rocket fuel mixtures, according to Blinken.
  • “The O Yong Ho, Roman Anatolyevich Alar, and Parsek LLC procurement and supply relationship is a vital source of missile-applicable items and technology for the DPRK’s missile development,” his statement read.
  • It further claimed that O Yong Ho worked to obtain materials such as aramid fibre, stainless steel tubing, and ball bearings from unnamed “other countries.”
  • Requests for response from North Korea’s UN mission, Russia’s and China’s embassies in Washington, and the Russian firm went unanswered.
  • North Korean state media said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un witnessed a hypersonic missile test on Tuesday, the second in less than a week after pledging in a New Year speech to boost the military with cutting-edge technology.

What’s important: The test came just hours after the US delegation to the UN, which was joined by Albania, France, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom, criticised last week’s launch and urged U.N. members to follow through on their sanctions commitments.

  • Resolutions passed by the United Nations prohibit North Korea from conducting ballistic missile and nuclear tests, as well as impose penalties.
  • The additional penalties, according to Anthony Ruggiero, a former Trump administration sanctions expert who failed to persuade Kim to scale back his nuclear programme despite extraordinary engagement, are “a decent start.”
  • The sanctions taken on Wednesday froze any U.S.-related assets of those targeted and barred all interactions with them
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