The North Korean government has warned that U.S. sanctions against its officials could endanger denuclearization talks.
On Dec. 10, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would be placing sanctions on three high-ranking North Korean officials "in response to the North Korean regime's ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship." These officials included Minister of State Security Jong Kyong Thaek, Director of the OGD (North Korea's censorship department) Choe Ryong Hae, and Director of the PAD (the Propaganda and Agitation Department) Pak Kwang Ho.
"Today's actions shine a spotlight on North Korea's reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea's brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who passed away 18 months ago," the statement said. Warmbier, 22, was an American college student who died after being held in North Korean custody.
What did North Korea say?
An editorial by the North Korean government in the state-run news service KCNA threatened that "DPRK-US relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire." It also said that "added sanctions pressure will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever - a result desired by no one." The editorial also claimed that the sanctions were put into place to punish North Korea for a "non-existent 'human rights issue.'"
But what does this really mean?
While North Korea may blame these recent sanctions for a breakdown in progress, satellite evidence suggests that they had never been fully committed to denuclearization. Several separate reports, from multiple news agencies as well as the United Nations, have suggested that North Korea has been continuing to run and actively improving its nuclear test sites.
On Dec. 4, national security adviser John Bolton admitted that the North Koreans "have not lived up to the commitments so far."
On Dec. 14, President Donald Trump said that negotiations with North Korea were "doing just fine," and that Kim saw the potential for "great economic success" following denuclearization "better than anyone and will fully take advantage of it for his people."