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Hard-line US tactics will ‘block’ path to denuclearization, North Korea warns

North Korean soldiers line up as they pay respect to the bronze statues of their late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. Many North Koreans are marking the seventh anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il with visits to the statues and vows of loyalty to his son, Kim Jong Un. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Dita Alangkara/Associated Press
North Korean soldiers lined up on Sunday to pay respect before the bronze statues of their late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang, North Korea. Many North Koreans are marking the seventh anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il with visits to the statues and vows of loyalty to his son, Kim Jong Un.

SEOUL — North Korea warned on Sunday that if the United States continued to escalate its sanctions and human rights campaign against the North, that approach could permanently shatter any chance of denuclearizing the country.

Washington is holding fast to its policy of exerting “maximum” economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea, even though President Trump has claimed progress in denuclearizing the North since his meeting with its leader, Kim Jong Un, in June in Singapore.

In the months after the Trump-Kim meeting, Washington has continued to crack down on companies, individuals, and ships accused of engaging in such banned activities as money laundering, cyberattacks, and ship-to-ship transfer of fuel on North Korea’s behalf.

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On Sunday, North Korea voiced its growing frustration, as Washington persisted in its efforts to squeeze the country with additional sanctions over its dismal rights record. Last Monday the Treasury Department blacklisted three top aides to Kim over serious rights abuses and censorship.

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The North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that if senior State Department and other US officials believed they could force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons by increasing sanctions and their “human rights racket to an unprecedented level,” it would be the “greatest miscalculation.”

Instead, the statement added, “it will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever — a result desired by no one.” The statement, issued in the name of the policy research director of the North’s Institute for American Studies, was carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The warning came amid a prolonged stalemate in negotiations between North Korea and the United States over the terms of denuclearization. In his meeting with Trump in June, Kim committed to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In return, Trump promised a peace regime on the peninsula, as well as security guarantees for “new” relations with North Korea.

Trump claimed that the North Korean nuclear crisis had been “largely solved” with the summit meeting. Since June, the North Koreans have refrained from criticizing Trump, whose impulsive and flamboyant negotiating style, analysts said, was favored by the North Koreans.

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But the North has become increasingly angry at US negotiators, as working-level talks have bogged down over who should do what first in putting the broadly worded Singapore agreement into action. On Sunday, the North Korean institute accused officials from the State Department and other US agencies of trying to sabotage the summit deal between Kim and Trump.

Washington is demanding a full declaration of the North’s nuclear assets for future inspections, but the North insists that the United States first lift sanctions before it takes any steps toward denuclearizing. As the working-level talks stalled, the North Koreans called off a meeting that was to take place in New York last month between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior North Korean official.

In recent weeks, Trump has appeared to recognize the time-consuming nature of negotiating with the North, tweeting about North Korea far less than he used to. He has said that he and Kim are likely to meet a second time, in January or February. But he has also said he was “in no hurry” to negotiate with North Korea.

“Many people have asked how we are doing in our negotiations with North Korea — I always reply by saying we are in no hurry,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “We are doing just fine!”

In its latest sanctions against North Korea, the Treasury Department targeted Choe Ryong Hae, who leads the powerful Organization and Guidance Department of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and is widely considered the No. 2 official in Kim’s inner circles.

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The other two top officials designated were Jong Kyong Thaek, North Korea’s minister of state security; and Pak Kwang Ho, the director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.