WASHINGTON/SEOUL, The U.S. Department of State on Tuesday stressed U.N. member countries' enforcement of anti-North Korea sanctions after Pyongyang's top envoy to the world body renewed calls for the return of a seized ship suspected of violating sanctions.
But it said that Washington is still open to nuclear negotiations with the North, which have hit an impasse since the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without a deal in Hanoi in February.
"As President Trump has said, he believes Chairman Kim will fulfill his commitment to denuclearize, and the United States remains open to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea to make further progress on that goal," a State Department spokesperson said in response to a question from Yonhap News Agency.
"As determined by the United Nations Security Council, international sanctions remain in place and are to be enforced by all United Nations members," the spokesperson added.
During a press conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Kim Song, the North's permanent representative at the U.N., redoubled calls for Washington to quickly return the Wise Honest bulk carrier, calling the seizure an "unlawful and outrageous" act.
Kim also said Pyongyang will "sharply watch every move" of the U.S. while stressing that Washington should think about the consequences the seizure could have on "future developments."
On May 9, the U.S. Justice Department said that it had seized the 17,061-ton vessel suspected of violating U.S. domestic law and international sanctions, in the first direct seizure of a North Korean ship by American authorities.
In April last year, Indonesian authorities first intercepted and seized the ship, which was later taken into custody by the U.S.
Washington claimed that the Wise Honest was used to illicitly ship coal from the North and to deliver heavy machinery to the communist state, while payments for maintenance, equipment and improvements of the vessel were made in U.S. dollars through unwitting U.S. banks.
U.N. Security Council sanctions bar the North from transfers of coal and other goods. A 2016 U.S. sanctions act prohibits North Korean entities or individuals involved in illicit weapons proliferation activities from using the U.S. financial system.
South Korea's unification ministry declined to comment on the ship's seizure or the North's reaction.
"The government has been faithfully implementing U.N. Security Council sanctions on the North," ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told a press briefing. "Regarding the matter you mentioned, I have nothing in particular to tell you."
Analysts here said that in the pleas for the ship's return, the North appears to be making an implicit call for a scrapping or easing of the overall sanctions that have crippled its economy and threatened to derail its leader Kim's policy drive to tackle pressing bread-and-butter issues.
Source: Yonhap news Agency