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U.S. Announces Sanctions On 2 Individuals Over North Korean Weapons Program

Dec 26, 2017

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has announced new sanctions on two individuals within the North Korean government, both of whom are reportedly prominent figures within Kim Jong Un's ballistic weapons development program.

Ri Pyong Chol and Kim Jong Sik are now both blacklisted — which means any assets they have in the U.S. will be frozen, although as NPR's David Welna notes, "It's not clear whether either of them, in fact, has any U.S. assets." Additionally, Americans will generally be prohibited from doing business with them.

"Kim Jong Sik reportedly is a key figure in North Korea's ballistic missile development, including efforts to switch from liquid to solid fuel," the Department of the Treasury says. "Ri Pyong Chol is reported to be a key official involved in North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile development."

Both men have appeared multiple times in photos of Kim Jong Un watching missile tests, according to North Korea Leadership Watch and reporting by Reuters. The men smile and congratulate each other.

Ri is a former air force general who now appears to have a prominent role within North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, Reuters says. Kim Jong Sik, meanwhile, is a rocket scientist who "started his career as a civilian aeronautics technician, but now wears the uniform of a military general," Reuters reports.

This is not the first time individuals in Kim Jong Un's government have been targeted by sanctions. Last year, the Obama administration singled out a number of senior officials — including Kim Jong Un himself — for sanctions, citing human rights violations.

The new sanctions are focused specifically on the weapons development program. While similar sanctions against the Syrian weapons program listed 271 individuals to target, this time, the focus is on two key figures.

"Treasury is targeting leaders of North Korea's ballistic missile programs, as part of our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the DPRK and achieve a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula," Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. "These actions follow Friday's United Nations Security Council Resolution, which imposed strong new sanctions on North Korea further shutting down its ability to raise illicit funds."

Those U.N. sanctions included Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol among more than a dozen other individuals. North Korea called the sanctions "an act of war," as NPR reported Monday.

Pyongyang called the U.N. vote a "grave infringement upon the sovereignty" of North Korea.

As NPR's Jackie Northam reported last month, it's not clear whether increasing sanctions on North Korea will be likely to influence the rogue nation's behavior.

Gary Hufbauer, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who has studied sanctions for three decades, told Jackie that sanctions helped bring Iran to the negotiating table for the 2015 nuclear deal:

"But historically, sanctions don't work on dictatorships, he warns.

" 'It's really hard to get autocratic governments to change with the use of sanctions," he says. "And there is no autocracy which is more autocratic today than Kim Jong Un's dynasty in North Korea.' "

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