WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. Treasury issued sanctions Wednesday against five officials in North Korea, one day after military detection confirmed the country's announcement that it had launched its second hypersonic missile in one week.
North Korea’s state media reported earlier Wednesday that the Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un had personally overseen the latest test of the hypersonic missile. The Tuesday test marked the sixth ballistic missile launch in North Korea since September 2021, the U.S. Treasury said Wednesday.
The United Nations Security Council has banned all North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests, and Tuesday's missile launch happened just hours after representatives to the U.N. from Albania, France, Ireland, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement condemning last week's launch and calling for sanctions.
Brian Nelson, who is under secretary of terrorism and financial Intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department, said in a statement Wednesday that North Korea’s conduct is proof that it is rejecting the "calls for diplomacy” and continuing to advance its prohibited nuclear weapons programs.
Chief among those sanctioned on Wednesday is North Korean national Choe Myong Hyon, who is said to live in Vladivostok, Russia, where he represents an organization subordinate to the Second Academy of Natural Sciences, which the U.S. first sanctioned over a decade ago for supporting North Korea's weapons program.
Four North Korean nationals now living in China were also hit with sanctions on the basis that they have helped North Korea procure weapons of mass destruction from SANS-subordinate organizations.
In addition to the measure sanctioning those five North Korean officials, the Treasury Department separately ordered sanctions against O Yong Ho, a North Korean national based in Moscow; Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alar, who is also living in Moscow; and Russian entity Parsek LLC.
All sanctioned parties will see the freeze of any assets they hold with U.S. ties and be banned from making any deals with U.S. parties.
While independent news outlets were not permitted to cover Tuesday's launch, the Korean Central News Agency, which is controlled by the North Korean government, says it involved a hypersonic glide vehicle hitting a sea target 621 miles away.
After its release from the rocket booster, the missile demonstrated "glide jump flight" and "corkscrew maneuvering," according to that report, which is accompanied by photos showing North Korean leader Kim Jon Un watching the launch from a small cabin with his sister Kim Yo Jong and other officials.
Kim's attendance at such a launch has not been reported since March 2020. Photos of the missile show that it was mounted with a pointed cone-shaped payload, and trailed by orange flames as it shot into the sky.
"The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more strikingly verified through the final test-fire," KCNA said. The report also quotes Kim as stressing the need for North Korea to speed up its "strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernize the army."
Hypersonic weapons fly at five times the speed of sound, in other words Mach 5, making detection difficult for missile-defense system. Kim included such weapons last year, along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles, as part of five-year plan to build up the country's military.
Pyongyang's descriptions of the new missile as part of North Korea's "strategic" weaponry imply that the system is being developed to deliver nuclear weapons.
Associated Press coverage of the Tuesday launch references experts who say "Kim is trying to apply more pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of winning relief from economic sanctions."
Before it can acquire a credible hypersonic system, however, Pyongyang would need longer-range tests that are still years away.
"North Korea seems to believe that hypersonic weapons are game changers and provide entrance into the nuclear club when the U.S., Russia, and China have been racing to build them," Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at Washington's Center for a New American Security, told the AP.
She said the North's recent advancements in its missile program indicate an aim to secure a "second-strike nuclear capability, make its missiles modern and more survivable, reassure the North Korean people of its military might and credibly gain entrance into the nuclear club."
U.S. sanctions and pandemic-related difficulties have largely crippled the North Korean economy, leaving Kim emptyhanded after attempted negotiations with former U.S. President Donald Trump fell apart in 2019. President Joe Biden has said North Korea can come back to the table for renegotiation at any time without preconditions.
Minutes after Tuesday's launch, airports across the western United States halted flights for a short time. The Federal Aviation Administration later acknowledged the "ground stop" in a tweet that offered no reason for the order.
"Full operations resumed in less than 15 minutes," the FAA said. "The FAA regularly takes precautionary measures. We are reviewing the process around this ground stop as we do after all such events."
The test North Korea conducted on Jan. 5 initially drew ridicule from South Korea, but the Joint Chief of Staff was forced to acknowledge that this week's demonstrated more advanced capability from the North.
The latest missile flew 434 miles at a maximum speed of around Mach 10 before landing in waters off the North's eastern coast, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the country could pursue preemptive strike capabilities in response.
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