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U.S. just hit Kim Jong Un's top rocket scientists with sanctions

The VICE News Guide to the World

by VICE News
Dec 27 2017, 2:45pm

Donald Trump may be a world of chaos all by himself, but the world beyond Trump is changing in dramatic ways, often with little notice. We’d like to tell you about it and we’re keeping track of these global changes, from the incremental to the monumental, so that you don’t have to.

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North Korea — December 27

U.S. just hit Kim Jong Un's top rocket scientists with sanctions

Washington placed sanctions on two "leaders" of North Korea’s missile program Tuesday, blocking any future transactions by the men in the United States.

“Treasury is targeting leaders of North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, as part of our maximum pressure campaign to isolate and achieve a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Named as Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong-chol, the pair have often been photographed standing next to leader Kim Jong Un during high-profile missile tests.

Both are popular with the young leader, so much so that they flout the “obsequiousness of other senior aides” when in his company, Reuters reports.

Kim Jong Sik is a veteran rocket scientist specializing in solid fuel propulsion, according to the news agency, while Ri Pyong-chol is an Air Force general and an integral part of the regime’s drive to develop a credible intercontinental ballistic missile threat.

The move, a response to Pyongyang’s missile test in late November, follows fresh United Nations sanctions adopted Friday in which the rogue state saw oil imports capped, exports banned, and the repatriation of all North Korean nationals working abroad within 12 months.

In response, North Korea called Friday’s sanctions an “act of war.”

The Kremlin Tuesday offered to act as mediator between Washington and Pyongyang to “clear the way for de-escalation.”

— Paul Vale

North Korea — December 26

China is finally starting to hit North Korea where it hurts: oil

China exported no oil products to North Korea in November, marking the second straight month in which Chinese shipments to the hermetic state were completely restricted, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Revealed by data from China’s General Administration of Customs, the move goes far beyond the sanctions required by the United Nations, which were adopted September in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The data shows Beijing, North Korea’s main source of fuel, suspended all exports of gasoline, diesel, fuel oil and jet fuel.

Fresh U.N. sanctions imposed last week also limit oil exports to North Korea to 500,000 barrels a year. China similarly suspended oil supplies in 2003 after a North Korean missile test.

But Kim Jong Un’s regime still likely has access to crude oil via a pipeline from China, and through Russian supplies.

READ: U.N. throws Trump a bone after Jerusalem cold shoulder

Beijing has been eager to push its unruly ward to the negotiating table with the U.S., which has threatened war on the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang edges closer to developing an missile that could credibly threaten the American mainland.

South Korea said Tuesday it expects North Korea to initiate talks with Washington in 2018, despite the U.N. sanctions imposed Friday, which Pyongyang called “an act of war.”

Paul Vale

New York — December 22

U.N. throws Trump a bone after Jerusalem cold shoulder

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved new, strict sanctions on North Korea on Friday, the day after the diplomatic body rejected President Donald Trump’s demands that it recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In November, North Korea conducted its most significant missile test to date, launching an intercontinental ballistic missile that could be capable of landing nuclear weapons anywhere in the continental United States. The new, U.S.-drafted sanctions include drastically cutting the amount of oil that the hermit state can import by nearly 90 percent, forcing all North Koreans working outside of their country to return home within a year, and prohibit the export of any industrial equipment to the country.

The sanctions are all meant to sharply limit the income of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, with the ultimate hope of preventing them from producing an operational nuclear arsenal. Still, the sanctions don’t go quite as far as the Trump administration had hoped they would: They don’t allow other countries to hail and board North Korean ships, which the U.S. had hoped they would.

Alex Lubben

Russia — December 22

Russian hackers targeted more than 200 journalists' email accounts

More than 200 journalists were targeted by a Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear, the same hackers notorious for stealing the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, according to Associated Press.

Using data from cybersecurity firm SecureWorks, the AP investigation revealed journalists were the third-largest group targeted by the Russian hacking squad in its three-years long cyber campaign. The hackers sent fake emails resembling a Google Accounts Team telling users there had been an unusual sign-in attempt and that users had to click on a link to review. Some phishing emails were sent by the hackers as early as several months ago.

The hackers targeted well-known journalists, including Ellen Barry, the former Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, the New Yorker’s investigative reporter Adrian Chen, and Josh Rogin, now an opinion columnist for the Washington Post.

About a quarter of the targeted journalists worked for the New York Times, while another quarter were Moscow-based foreign correspondents or local Russian reporters, according to the AP. The Daily Beast said four of its former and current reporters were among those targeted.

Fancy Bear did not limit its resources to Podesta and journalists, however. In November AP reported that the group also attempted to hack the Secretary of State’s, several U.S. defense contractors, and even some Ukrainian officials.

— Alexa Liautaud