© Reuters. A missile is launched during what state media report is a hypersonic missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, January 11, 2022, in this photo released January 12, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
By David Brunnstrom and Chris Gallagher
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian firm it said were responsible for procuring goods from Russia and China for North Korea’s weapons programs, an action that follows a series of North Korean missile launches, including two since last week.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the steps aimed to prevent the advancement of North Korea’s weapons programs and impede its attempts to proliferate weapons technologies.
The sanctions were the first specifically targeting North Korea’s weapons programs imposed by the Biden administration, which has sought unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear bombs and missiles.
A Treasury Department statement said the sanctions followed six North Korean ballistic missile launches since September, each of which it said violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said the moves targeted North Korea’s “continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure goods for weapons.”
North Korea’s latest missile launches were “further evidence that it continues to advance prohibited programs despite the international community’s calls for diplomacy and denuclearization,” Nelson said in a statement.
It said the U.S. State Department had designated Russia-based North Korean Choe Myong Hyon, Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alara and the Russian firm Parsek LLC for “activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery.”
It said Choe Myong Hyon, a Vladivostok-based representative of North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), had worked to procure telecommunications-related equipment from Russia.
Four China-based North Korean representatives of SANS-subordinate organizations – Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak and Pyon Kwang Chol – and one other North Korean, O Yong Ho, were also targeted.
Sim Kwang Sok, based in Dalian, had worked to procure steel alloys and Kim Song Hun, who was based in Shenyang, software and chemicals, Treasury said.
North Korea’s U.N. mission, the Russian and Chinese embassies in Washington and the Russian firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for boosting his country’s strategic military forces while observing the test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, North Korean state media said.
The second test in less than a week underscored a vow by Kim to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and Washington have stalled.
Tuesday’s test occurred hours after the U.S. mission to the United Nations, joined by Albania, France, Ireland, Japan and the United Kingdom, condemned last week’s launch and called on U.N. member states to fulfill their sanctions obligations.
U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and impose sanctions.
Anthony Ruggiero, a sanctions expert in the former Trump administration that failed to persuade Kim to roll back his nuclear program despite unprecedented engagement, called the new sanctions “a good start.”
However, he said the Biden administration had allowed a reversal of sanctions pressure and added: “Biden needs to continue the designations to increase the pressure on the Kim regime.”
Wednesday’s actions freeze any U.S.-related assets of those targeted and prohibit all dealings with them.