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North Korea says continued US sanctions put denuclearization at risk

Pyongyang warned Washington that the two could return to “exchanges of fire.”

Historic U.S.-DPRK Summit Scheduled In Singapore
Kim Jong Un impersonator, Howard X (L) and Donald Trump impersonator Dennis Alan (R) pose for photographers during a visit to the famous Merlion Park on June 8, 2018 in Singapore. 
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

North Korea isn’t happy that the US has continued its sanction regime against it — so unhappy that Pyongyang announced this weekend that continued diplomatic pressure and attempts to intervene in its human rights abuses could put a permanent end to denuclearization efforts.

In a statement released Sunday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said trying to pressure the country to give up its nuclear weapons through increasing sanctions would be the “greatest miscalculation” and in fact would “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever — a result desired by no one.” North Korea warned the State Department to stop trying to sanction the country over its human rights record, or what it called a “human rights racket” by the US, and warned of a return to “exchanges of fire.”

It’s the latest sign of unraveling in the tenuous relationship US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un knit together when they met in Singapore in June. At the time, Kim agreed to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but negotiations over the terms of denuclearization are currently at a stalemate.

There’s any number of reasons that could be: differing definitions over what “denuclearization” would entail, or potentially as a result of Trump’s failure to follow through on a promise to declare an end to the Korean War, as Vox’s Alex Ward reported in an August exclusive. North Korea, meanwhile, is still building missiles, despite Trump’s optimism.

Trump and Kim may be “in love,” but their administrations are a different matter

Trump has a better personal relationship with Kim than his predecessors, even going so far as to say that he and the North Korean leader “fell in love” over denuclearization letters.

But the US has continued to exert economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea in the months since the Singapore summit, drawing Pyongyang’s ire. The North Korean foreign ministry last released such a statement in August, accusing unnamed members of the Trump administration of “going against the intention of president Trump” to improve relations between the US and North Korea.

The new statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry comes less than one week after the Treasury Department blacklisted three of Kim’s aides over human rights abuses and censorship.

As Ward noted at the time of the Singapore summit, Trump failed to address any of these human rights issues:

There’s a reason North Korea is widely considered the most repressive country on earth. Somewhere between 80,000 and 130,000 North Koreans are currently held as political prisoners by their own government, detained in brutal and vicious gulags. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans have died in these gulags over the past several decades; summary executions and systematic rape are relatively common occurrences.

No wonder North Korea only wants to meet with Trump.

But that sort of personality-driven politics has its costs, too. In a recent interview with Vox, North Korea expert Van Jackson said that Trump has actually made the North Korea crisis worse, partly because he’s made it about himself:

Trump and Kim — but especially Trump — have personalized the nuclear confrontation in a way that makes the whole situation hostage to their personal chemistry.

The structure of the confrontation has not changed. The nuclear situation has not changed. Sanctions have not changed. And frankly, they’re not likely to. The deck is stacked in favor of hostility. And this is made more so by the fact that Trump is not representative of how Washington feels about North Korea, and Trump is not representative of how the majority of Americans feel about North Korea.

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