North Korea on Tuesday demanded the release of a ship impounded by the United States for evading international sanctions, calling the seizure a “flagrant act of robbery” that violated the spirit of the agreement reached last year between the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald Trump, the New York Times reports.
American prosecutors say the North Korean ship was used to export coal and import heavy machinery in violation of sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear arms program. The ship was detained in Indonesian waters by the authorities there in April of last year, and its seizure by the United States was announced last week. The ship has since been taken to American Samoa.
“The United States’ action is an extension of its calculation aimed at subjugating us through the so-called maximum pressure and flatly denies the spirit of the June 12 Joint North Korea-U.S. Declaration where both sides agreed to build new relations,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the broad agreement reached between Trump and Kim at their first meeting, in Singapore.
“The United States must mull over what repercussions its gangster-like act will entail, and must return our vessel without delay,” the ministry said.
The seizure of the ship was the first time the United States had impounded a North Korean cargo vessel for alleged international sanctions violations. The Americans announced it soon after North Korea fired off two short-range missiles, its second such launch in five days.
Analysts said the North’s resumption of short-range missile tests was aimed at pressuring Washington to ease its stance on sanctions relief, after the collapse in February of the second summit meeting between Trump and Kim, the Times added.
Those talks, in Vietnam, ended early after Trump rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle one of its nuclear facilities in exchange for lifting the most painful sanctions. Trump insisted on a full dismantlement of its nuclear program.
North Korea is desperate to lift a series of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed between 2016 and 2017. Unlike previous sanctions that targeted the North’s ruling elite, these penalties sought to strangle North Korea’s economy by banning all the country’s key exports, including coal, iron ore, textiles, fisheries and cheap workers.