By David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) – The United States, South Korea, and Japan have imposed sanctions on North Korean officials connected to the country’s weapons programs after Pyongyang’s latest and largest intercontinental ballistic missile test last month.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday named the individuals as Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin, and Kim Su Gil, all of whom the European Union designated for sanctions in April.
South Korea’s foreign ministry announced sanctions on seven other individuals, including a Singaporean and a Taiwanese, and eight entities. All are already under sanctions by the United States imposed between January 2018 and October 2022, the ministry said.
Japan also designated three entities and an individual for new sanctions, Japan’s foreign ministry said, including the Lazarus Group suspected of carrying out cyberattacks.
China and Russia have blocked recent efforts to impose more United Nations sanctions, saying they should instead be eased to jumpstart talks and avoid humanitarian harm. That has left Washington to focus on trilateral efforts with South Korea and Japan, as well as European partners.
The latest sanctions follow a Nov. 18 ICBM test by North Korea, part of a record-breaking spate of more than 60 missile launches this year, and amid concerns that it may be about to resume nuclear weapons testing, which has been suspended since 2017.
A Treasury statement said Jon Il Ho and Yu Jin played major roles in the development of weapons of mass destruction while serving as vice director and director, respectively, of the North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department.
It said Kim Su Gil served as director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw implementation of decisions related to the WMD program.
“Treasury is taking action in close trilateral coordination with the Republic of Korea and Japan against officials who have had leading roles in the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs,” Treasury Under Secretary For Terrorism And Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
“Recent launches demonstrate the need for all countries to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions, which are intended to prevent the DPRK from acquiring the technologies, materials, and revenue Pyongyang needs to develop its prohibited WMD and ballistic missile capabilities.”
The sanctions freeze any U.S.-based assets of the individuals and bar dealings with them, but appear largely symbolic.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said the latest move was part of its efforts to sternly respond to North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
Decades of U.S.-led sanctions have failed to halt North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear weapon programs.
“Targeting senior officials inside North Korea responsible for WMD and missile activities and working with South Korea and Japan are important, but it is an inadequate and symbolic response to 60+ missile tests, including 8 ICBM tests,” said Anthony Ruggiero, who headed North Korea sanctions efforts under former President Donald Trump.
“The Biden administration should sanction Pyongyang’s revenue and force Kim Jong Un to make difficult decisions about his strategic priorities,” he said.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said earlier Washington was committed to using pressure and diplomacy to entice North Korea into giving up its nuclear arsenal.
He said the administration had no illusions about the challenges, but remained committed to holding Pyongyang accountable.
A spokesperson at the White House National Security Council said sanctions had been successful in “slowing down the development” of the weapons programs and Pyongyang had turned to “increasingly desperate ways to generate revenue like virtual currency heists and other cybercrime to fund its weapons programs.”
“The DPRK’s decision to continue ignoring our outreach is not in their best interest, or in the interest of the people of the DPRK.”
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Chris Gallagher and Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Josh Smith in Seoul and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Editing by Sandra Maler and Gerry Doyle)