North Korea Threatens ‘Merciless Countermeasures’ if Interdictions-at-Sea Begin

By Patrick Goodenough | December 11, 2017 | 4:29 AM EST

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's state news agency on September 16, 2017. (Photo: KCNA)

( – North Korea at the weekend lashed out at the Trump administration’s promotion of a maritime blockade to prevent the regime in Pyongyang from circumventing U.N.-imposed sanctions designed to curb its nuclear and missile ambitions.

It warned that any attempt to interdict ships bound for North Korea would invite “merciless countermeasures.”

“This is just a hideous provocation pushing the situation to an ‘uncontrollable catastrophe’ and the brink of war,” the ruling communist party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun said Sunday.

“The situation clearly proves that the U.S. is just the thrice-cursed criminal wholly to blame for worsening the situation on the Korean peninsula and wrecking global peace and security, and that the Trump cult deserves worldwide criticism for its sanctions racket to stifle the DPRK, a heinous crime,” it continued.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK, is North Korea’s formal name.

The interdictions-at-sea proposal is not a purely U.S. idea but is included in a resolution adopted by all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council on September 11, eight days after the Kim Jong-un regime’s carried out a nuclear test.

Resolution 2375 states that if a cargo vessel – or that ship’s flag state – suspected of smuggling prohibited products to or from North Korea does not cooperate with inspections, then the vessel may be subject to an asset freeze, denied port access, and even be de-registered.

Prohibited items include conventional arms, coal, iron ore, textiles and seafood.

Resolution 2375 also requires all U.N. member-states to prohibit their nationals and ships flying their flags “from facilitating or engaging in ship-to-ship transfers to or from DPRK-flagged vessels of any goods or items that are being supplied, sold, or transferred to or from the DPRK.”

According to the U.S. Mission to the U.N., “North Korea has been smuggling coal and iron ore to other countries using very sophisticated evasion techniques by sea.”

The revenue earned from the smuggled coal is believed to help fund Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities.

More than two months after the resolution was adopted, the U.S. again publicly raised the subject of interdictions, this time after North Korea on November 29 carried out its latest and most-successful yet intercontinental ballistic missile test.

In his response to the launch, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated the international community’s obligations to take “strong economic and diplomatic measures” against the regime – including “measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods to and from” North Korea.

It was those remarks that North Korea was evidently reacting to on Sunday.

The regime’s official KCNA news agency, which reproduced the Rodong Sinmun article, said in introductory comments that Tillerson, White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley “and anti-DPRK hard-liners in the Congress are crying out for imposing sea blockade upon the DPRK.”

“The U.S. moves for sea blockade can never be tolerated as they constitute a wanton violation of the sovereignty and dignity of an independent state,” KCNA said in an earlier report.

It cited a U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted 43 years ago defining “acts of aggression” as including “[t]he blockade of the ports or coasts of a State by the armed forces of another State.”

Meanwhile the U.S., South Korea and Japan began a two-day joint missile-tracking military drill on Monday, the first trilateral exercise since the Nov. 29 test of an ICBM which North Korea claims brings the entire continental United States within range.

A South Korean defense official told the country’s Yonhap news agency that the military was keeping a close eye on the North’s missile facilities, but has seen no sign of any imminent launch.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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