US seizes DPRK ship for 'violations'
The move came hours after Pyongyang fired two projectiles toward the sea
The United States said on Thursday it has seized a DPRK cargo ship, claiming it had violated international sanctions, a first-of-its kind enforcement action that comes amid tense relations between the two countries.
The ship, Wise Honest, is now in the process of being moved to American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the US located in the South Pacific Ocean.
The second-largest cargo ship of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was detained in April 2018 as it headed toward Indonesia, according to The Associated Press.
The US Justice Department lawyers, making a case for confiscating the ship in a complaint filed in New York, argued that payments for maintenance and operation of the vessel were channeled through unwitting US financial institutions in violation of US law.
The ship was said to have been used to haul coal from the DPRK that was sold in other countries. Coal trade is believed to fund the country's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, AP reported.
"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department's top national security official. He later added: "The US sanctions against North Korea (DPRK) reflect the threat these programs pose to US national security."
The US move came hours after the DPRK fired two projectiles toward the sea, the second weapons launch in five days. Some critics saw the launch as a possible signal that stalled talks over its nuclear weapons program are in trouble.
Fan Jishe, an expert from the Institute of American Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said both the DPRK and the US are still trying to find chances to keep negotiating, although there exists the deadlock.
He said the timing and message of the latest action reflected US' insistence on the original position that Washington will not lift its sanctions until Pyongyang shows substantive progress in denuclearization.
"Trump is unlikely to make concessions on sanctions within the short term, so the diplomatic momentum of the two sides may face great challenges," he said. "But since neither side wants to wage a war, the two countries will still try to sit down and hold talks."
In the future, Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea, and his government may play a mediatory role, Wang noted.
On Friday, the projectiles were confirmed as short-range missiles, said Newsis news agency, citing a defense ministry official from the ROK.
Meanwhile, Stephen Biegun, US special representative for the DPRK affairs, said on Friday that the doors remained open for DPRK's return to negotiations.
Biegun made the remarks during his courtesy call to ROK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, according to Seoul's foreign ministry. The US diplomat arrived in the ROK on Wednesday for a four-day trip.
Kang said DPRK's projectile launches were an act that is of no help for the improvement of inter-Korean relations and efforts to defuse military tensions on the peninsula, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The top ROK diplomat emphasized the importance of earnest dialogue between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington for complete denuclearization and a lasting peace settlement.
The two sides held in-depth discussions on ways to advance the complete denuclearization and the settlement of permanent peace on the peninsula. They shared their assessment on recent situations, including the DPRK's projectile launches.
The working group was launched last November to coordinate between Seoul and Washington the Korean Peninsula issues such as denuclearization, sanctions and inter-Korean cooperation.