SEOUL: North Korea on Sunday slammed the latest US measures against it as an “act of war”, after US President Donald Trump announced the “heaviest sanctions ever” on the nuclear-armed regime.
The measures, which Washington says are aimed at forcing Pyongyang to roll back its banned nuclear and weapons programmes, target more than 50 North Korea-linked shipping companies, vessels and trade businesses.
“Like we have said repeatedly, we consider any restrictions on us as an act of war,” the North’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency.
It also vowed a retaliation if the US “really has the nerves” to confront the North in a “rough” manner.
Trump warned on Friday that, if the latest sanctions don’t work, the US would “go to phase two” that “may be a very rough thing,” without elaborating.
In response, the North also vowed to “subdue the US in our own way” if provoked, saying “Trump is trying to change us with such sanctions and hostile remarks, which shows his ignorance about us.”
“We already have our own nuclear weapon – a treasured sword of justice to protect us from such threats from the US,” the foreign ministry said.
The comment came hours before the North’s senior delegation led by Kim Yong Chol, a blacklisted military general, is set to attend the closing ceremony of the South’s Winter Olympics, which will also be attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
The blacklisted North Korean general arrived in the South on Sunday for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony.
The visit by Chol, who led an eight-member high-level delegation that crossed the Demilitarized Zone in the morning, is the final piece of the Games-led diplomacy that has dominated headlines from Pyeongchang.
The nuclear-armed North has gone on a charm offensive over the Games, sending athletes, cheerleaders and performers and with leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attending the opening ceremony.
Analysts say it is seeking to loosen the sanctions imposed against it over its banned nuclear and missile programmes, and trying to weaken the alliance between Seoul and Washington.
But Kim Yo Jong had no interaction with US Vice President Mike Pence at the opening ceremony, even though they were just a few seats apart in the same VIP area. According to the US, a planned meeting between the delegations from Washington and Pyongyang the following day was cancelled at short notice by the North Koreans.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in – who has long pushed for engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table – also did not immediately accept an invitation passed on by Kim Yo Jong from her brother to a summit in Pyongyang, saying the right conditions must be created.
Washington, which describes its approach to Pyongyang as “maximum pressure and engagement”, announced a series of new sanctions on Friday.
Pence also condemned Kim Yo Jong as part of an “evil family clique” and “murderous regime,” prompting a denunciation from Pyongyang on Sunday – which said it would not talk to the Trump administration for “even 100 years or 200 years.”
Kim Yong Chol’s delegation was greeted by Seoul’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung.
Kim, wearing a long dark coat, was later seen checking into the Walkerhill luxury hotel in Seoul with other delegates and leaving a few hours later amid heavy security involving hundreds of police officers.
Kim’s nomination as the leader of the group is controversial in the South, where he is widely blamed for a spate of attacks including the torpedoing of Seoul’s Cheonan warship in 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. Pyongyang denies responsibility.
Conservative lawmakers staged an overnight protest near the border with the North, joined by hundreds of other activists.
The protesters waved banners including “Arrest Kim Yong Chol!” and “Kim Yong Chol should kneel in front of the victims’ families and apologize!”
Kim is blacklisted under Seoul’s unilateral sanctions against the North, meaning he is subject to an assets freeze. AFP
Officials from both Seoul and Washington say there will be no meeting between Kim Yong Chol and Ivanka Trump – who is travelling with Korea specialists from the US administration and White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
But the North’s delegation includes Choe Kang Il, the deputy director general for North American affairs at the North’s foreign ministry, suggesting Pyongyang may be open for talks.