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28 Oct 2020, Edition - 1933, Wednesday

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North Korea warns US of ‘greatest pain’ if Trump pursues oil sanctions threat

theguardian.com

Kim Jong-un’s regime lashes out as UN security council prepares to meet over possible new restrictions

North Korea has warned that it will inflict “the greatest pain and suffering” on the US if it continues to call for fresh sanctions in response to the regime’s sixth nuclear test last week.

According to a draft resolution leaked to the media, Washington wants the UN security council to support a halt to oil exports to North Korea and a freeze on the assets of its leader, Kim Jong-un.

The US, which is seeking a meeting of the security council later on Monday, also backs an end to textile imports and a ban on North Koreans working overseas, where they earn much-needed foreign currency for the regime.

Pyongyang claims it tested a hydrogen bomb on 3 September that can be loaded onto an intercontinental missile [ICBM], drawing widespread condemnation and increasing pressure on Donald Trump to respond.

North Korea’s recent volley of missile launches, combined with last Sunday’s nuclear test, suggest it is edging closer to its goal of building a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland – a game-changing development that Trump vowed in January “won’t happen”.

In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency on Monday, North Korea’s foreign ministry warned the US that if it “did rig up the illegal and unlawful ‘resolution’ on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the US pays a due price”.

Referring to the country by its official title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it added: “The forthcoming measures to be taken by the DPRK will cause the US the greatest pain and suffering it has ever gone through in its entire history.

“The world will witness how the DPRK tames the US gangsters by taking a series of action tougher than they have ever envisaged.”

Differences have opened up between permanent security council members about how to respond to the nuclear test, weeks after they unanimously backed tougher sanctions when Pyongyang launched two ICBMs that, theoretically, could reach several US cities.

China, by far the biggest exporter of crude oil to the North, condemned last week’s nuclear test but is wary of any measure that could foment political instability in Pyongyang.

China’s greatest fear is a united post-Kim Korean peninsula under Seoul’s control, with tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops ranged along its border with the North.

Russia has also indicated it opposes an oil embargo.

As the UN prepared to consider applying more economic pressure, evidence emerged of the regime’s success in skirting sanctions.

An investigation by ABC’s Four Corners programme claimed that North Korea’s “royal economy” generates billions of dollars a year through illicit business interests around the world, with the proceeds used to fund Kim’s lavish lifestyle.

“Many have the view that North Korea’s actually extremely, extremely isolated from the international community, that it doesn’t have trade relations with the outside world, bar China, but the truth couldn’t be further from that,” Andrea Berger, a defence analyst, told the programme.

“North Korea is very sophisticated in concealing the fact that it is, indeed, doing business overseas. It’s good at hiding in plain sight.”

UN officials believe North Korea illegally exported coal, iron and other commodities worth at least $270m to China and other countries in the six months up to August.

The regime has managed to defy international sanctions not only on commodities, but also arms exports and shipping and financial services, the UN report said.

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The Asahi Shimbun, meanwhile, said Kim has access to a “revolutionary fund” worth $3-5bn held under false names in Swiss bank accounts.

The Japanese newspaper, citing an official from the Industrial Bank of Korea in Seoul and other sources, said Kim and other members of the ruling dynasty spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the fund on luxury items.

Kim also uses some of the money to reward senior officials with expensive watches and consumer electronics goods, the Asahi said.

North Korea’s ruling party is thought to raise and manage funds for the dictatorship through two divisions: Office 38 oversees domestic operations, while Office 39 raises cash overseas.

Last week the US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, warned that if the UN security council failed to agree on additional measures, he had an executive order ready for Trump to sign that would impose sanctions on any country that trades with North Korea.

The world had been bracing for another ICBM launch this weekend, when North Korea marked the 69th anniversary of its foundation.

Instead, Kim hosted a huge celebration for scientists and technicians involved in the nuclear test. “The recent test of the H-bomb is the great victory won by the Korean people,” KCNA quoted the leader as saying.

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