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North Korea calls US seizure of ship ‘robbery,’ demands immediate return

A file photo of North Korean cargo ship “Wise Honest,” which was impounded by the US on May 9, 2019 (by AFP)

North Korea has censured the seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States as an illegal move that violates the spirit of a summit deal between the leaders of the two countries in June 2018, demanding the ship’s immediate release.

In a Tuesday statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also rejected United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions against North Korea — which the US cited to impound the vessel — as an infringement on its sovereignty.

“The United States carried out an illegal act of robbery by seizing our cargo ship citing UN Security Council sanctions resolutions,” an unnamed ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“This act is an extension of the US-style calculation of trying to hold us in submission with its ‘maximum pressure’ and is a total denial of the fundamental spirit of the June 12 DPRK-US joint statement,” the spokesman said, using an abbreviation for North Korea’s official name.

He said Washington “must realize the consequence of its gangster-like actions... and must return our ship without delay.”

The US Justice Department declared last Thursday that it had confiscated a North Korean cargo ship called the Wise Honest after it was first seized by Indonesian authorities, alleging that it had been engaged in the illicit shipments of coal in violation of US-led and UNSC economic sanctions against Pyongyang.

The unusual measure was taken after North Korea test-launched a number of missiles on two occasions within a few days in what was seen to be an act of protest for the US’s refusal to dial down the sanctions.

However, the US Justice Department insisted that the timing of the move was not related to the missile launches.

“There is no connection at all between the recent activities by North Korea,” Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, claimed. “We have been pursuing this for months.”

In a bid to block revenue for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Washington has spearheaded several rounds of sanctions against Pyongyang at the UNSC since 2006. The bans have mostly targeted Pyongyang’s exports, including coal, iron, lead, textiles, and seafood, while also hindering the imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

But UN sanctions monitors claimed in March that North Korea defied the measures “through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal.”

China optimistic on resolution for North Korea issue

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday that it was still possible to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through international dialog despite the missile tests.

Wang said during a formal visit to Russia that while a resolution had become uncertain since the last US-North Korea summit collapsed in Hanoi in February, there was still a chance.

“We have seen that the North Korea side is still upholding the basic goal of achieving the denuclearization of the [Korean] Peninsula, and the US side has not yet abandoned its basic thinking of resolving the issue through dialog,” Wang said. “This is to say that the resolution for the peninsula nuclear issue has not come off the tracks, and remains within the framework for a political resolution.”

Trump stated on Friday that he did not consider North Korea’s recent launch of short-range ballistic missiles as “a breach of trust.”

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