The U.S. imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea Tuesday, a response to the regime’s 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia using a banned chemical weapon.
The announcement from Washington came hours after South Korea announced a potentially historic breakthrough in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over denuclearization.
Kim Jong Nam was murdered waiting to board a flight at Kuala Lumpur airport by two women who covered his face with VX, a nerve agent designated a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
Malaysian authorities have accused Pyongyang of orchestrating the attack, a charge the North has denied.
Yet the timing of Wednesday’s announcement appears odd. The State Department said it concluded on Feb. 22 that North Korea was responsible for the attack, yet the announcement came only hours after South Korea revealed Kim Jong Un was open to talks with the U.S. about relinquishing its nuclear arsenal.
“The United States strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons to conduct an assassination,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD program of any kind.”
The sanctions, which took effect from March 5, will have no material impact on North Korea as they overlap many already imposed by the U.S. and the UN over Pyongyang’s ongoing ballistic missile tests.
Russia condemned the new sanctions, calling them illegitimate as they had not been imposed under the auspicious of the UN.
The State Department’s announcement came around the same time U.S. President Donald Trump expressed hope about “possible progress being made in talks with North Korea.”
Trump added: “May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”
Cover image: Kim Jong Nam, eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, is seen on arrival at the Beijing International Airport on February 11, 2007 in Beijing, China. (Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)