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North Korea threatens to kill nuclear talks over human rights sanctions

December 16, 2018

North Korea threatened to kill any progress toward denuclearization Sunday if the Trump administration continues to increase sanctions pressure and criticize human rights abuses by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime.

In a biting statement days after the administration leveled human rights-related sanctions against officials close to Mr. Kim, the North Korean Foreign Ministry warned further such actions by Washington would “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever a result desired by no one.”

The statement, projected via the official Korean Central News Agency, claimed American officials are falling victim to their “greatest miscalculation” if they believe they can force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program by ratcheting up human rights pressure on the Kim government.

While there was no immediate reaction from the White House, the statement underscored Pyongyang’s rising frustration over the Trump administration’s decision in recent days to raise previously sidelined human rights concerns against a backdrop of stalled denuclearization talks.

North Korea’s state media initially lashed out with a blistering commentary Tuesday after the administration had leveled sanctions against three top officials in Pyongyang over their alleged involvement in rights abuses.

While the administration had faced criticism in recent months for leaving the rights issue off the table in the diplomatic push with Pyongyang, the Treasury Department announced sanctions Monday against top Kim advisers Jong Kyong-thaek, Choe Ryong-hae and Pak Kwang-ho.

Mr. Jong is minister of state security for the Kim government. Mr. Choe heads the regime’s Organization and Guidance Department, and Mr. Pak is director of the regime’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.

“The United States has consistently condemned the North Korean regime for its flagrant and egregious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this Administration will continue to take action against human rights abusers around the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement on issuing the sanctions.

It remains to be seen how the development will fully impact the delicate denuclearization diplomacy between North Korea, the U.S. and South Korea. Administration officials have for months said they are pushing for a second Trump-Kim summit, although Mr. Trump suggested Friday there is little current momentum toward such a meeting.

“Many people have asked how we are doing in our negotiations with North Korea,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I always reply by saying we are in no hurry.”

At the same time, the president said that “we are doing just fine!”

There remains “wonderful potential for great economic success” for North Korea, Mr. Trump tweeted, adding that Mr. Kim “sees it better than anyone and will fully take advantage of it for his people.”

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Biegun is reportedly slated to visit South Korea over the coming days to strategize with officials there on ways to salvage the denuclearization negotiations with the North.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday that Mr. Biegun will meet his South Korean counterpart, Special Representative Lee Do-hoon, for a second face-to-face meeting of a joint working group on North Korea that Seoul and Washington established last month.

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