The US on Wednesday announced sanctions on eight North Korean and Russian individuals and entities for supporting North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, imposing the punishments after a pair of new missile tests by North Korea in the last week.
“Today’s actions, part of the United States’ ongoing efforts to counter (North Korea’s) weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, target its continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure goods for weapons,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement.
North Korea’s “latest missile launches are further evidence that it continues to advance prohibited programs despite the international community’s calls for diplomacy and denuclearization,” he added.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement later Wednesday that in addition to the individuals and entities that the Treasury Department had imposed sanctions on, his department was placing sanctions on “one (North Korean) individual, one Russian individual, and one Russian entity that have engaged in activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of (weapons of mass destruction) or their means of delivery by (North Korea).”
A full assessment of the missile test by North Korea on Tuesday local time continues to be made. Three US officials told CNN that it demonstrated some surprising capabilities, although two other US officials said they were not surprised by the development. Those two officials cited North Korea’s statement that it was working on new advanced weapons for war fighting earlier this month and launched its first hypersonic missile test last year.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday’s test was more advanced than the missile Pyongyang tested last week, reaching a velocity of more than 10 times the speed of sound.
One US administration official said the current assessment is the missile most likely released a glide vehicle, but it’s not clear how successful it was. A maneuverable glide vehicle is when the front end of the missile detaches and can maneuver and change course.
Multiple officials also cautioned that analysis remains ongoing, with one adding that it is not clear if the capabilities demonstrated in the test are immediately relevant to North Korea’s operational military capacity.
Tuesday’s projectile was launched from Jangang province, near the border with China, and landed in the ocean between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, its flight covering a distance of more than 700 kilometers (435 miles) and reaching a height of 60 kilometers (37 miles), according to South Korea.
North Korea said Wednesday that it had successfully test-fired a hypersonic missile, according to its state media, making it the third alleged test of such a weapon by the Kim Jong Un regime. Kim attended the launch, state media reported.
Despite the advanced launch, the Biden administration does not plan to reach out to North Korea in a substantive way before South Korean elections in March, administration officials said.
The weapons test this week comes as diplomacy between the US and North Korea has been halted for more than a year. Though the Biden administration has tried to reach out to North Korea a handful of times, there has been no real response.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday that the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea remains “unchanged” in the face of the recent missile launches. The administration still believes that the “only effective” way to bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula is through dialogue, he said.
US officials have watched, and quietly supported, as South Korea has tried to engage North Korea in many ways over the last year. But South Koreans do not think there is a high chance of diplomacy before the elections, and Biden administration officials agree.
Administration officials believe that North Korea is now solely focused on two things: the coronavirus pandemic and advancing its weapons systems, the officials said.
This story has been updated with additional details from the State Department.