SEOUL, (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Wednesday that Washington will impose new sanctions on communist North Korea in a bid to stem the regime’s illicit atomic ambitions.
Clinton, speaking at a joint news conference in Seoul after holding unprecedented security talks with U.S. and South Korean defense and military officials, said the sanctions are part of measures designed to rein in the regime’s nuclear activities by stamping out illegal moneymaking ventures used to fund the program.
She said the sanctions would be aimed at the sale or procurement of arms and related goods as well as the procurement of luxury items.
The U.S. will freeze assets as well as prevent some businesses and individuals from traveling abroad, and collaborate with banks to stop illegal financial transactions. The sanctions also will seek to stop the abuse of diplomatic privileges in order to carry out illegal activities, Clinton said.
“These measures are not directed at the people of North Korea, who have suffered too long due to the misguided priorities of their government,” she said. “They are directed at the destabilizing, illicit and provocative policies pursued by that government.”
The U.N. Security Council has imposed stiff sanctions on North Korea in recent years to punish the regime for defying the world body by testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and illegally selling arms and weapons.
With few allies and diminishing sources of aid, impoverished North Korea is believed to be turning to illicit ventures to raise much-needed cash. Pyongyang also walked away last year from a disarmament-for-aid pact with five other nations that had provided the country with fuel oil and other concessions.
Clinton, making a high-profile trip to South Korea with Defense Secretary Robert Gates just four months after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, urged North Korea to turn away from its path toward continued isolation.
“From the beginning of the Obama administration, we have made clear that there is a path open to the DPRK to achieve the security and international respect it seeks,” she said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“North Korea can cease its provocative behavior, halt its threats and belligerence towards its neighbors, take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments and comply with international law,” Clinton said.
The U.S. and South Korea blame the North for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan warship, which killed 46 South Korean sailors in what would be the worst military attack on South Korea since the Korean War of the 1950s.
An international team of investigators pinned the explosion of the Cheonan on a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine.
North Korea, however, denies any involvement, and has threatened war if punished over the incident.
The U.N. Security Council earlier this month approved a statement condemning the incident, but did not directly blame Pyongyang. Still, the U.S. and South Korea are adamant that North Korea apologize for the incident or face punishment, and warned against further provocations.
North Korea faces “grave consequences” if it engages in additional hostile acts, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said at the joint press conference.
Earlier, Clinton and Gates paid a rare visit on a rainy day to the heavily fortified border dividing the two Koreas — a symbolic trip 60 years after war broke out on the Korean peninsula.
“Although it may be a thin line, these two places are worlds apart,” Clinton said in a drizzling rain outside the Military Armistice Commission building, where officials from North Korea and the U.N. Command meet for talks.
Clinton praised longtime ally South Korea for making “extraordinary progress” in the years since the Korean War, economically and politically. “By contrast, the North has not only stagnated in isolation, but the people of the North have suffered for so many years.”
She thanked the troops — U.S., South Korean and from other U.N. nations — that guard the buffer zone that stretches from east to west and lies just 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the South Korean capital.
“We continue to send a message to the North: There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North,” she said. “But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Korea, where we provide a stalwart defense along with our allies and partners.”