Tensions surface over US, N. Korea sanctions

North Korea is warning that recent US sanctions could take relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea back to the bristling tension of last year and endanger efforts to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. CNN's Brian Todd reports.

Posted: Dec 18, 2018 1:19 PM
Updated: Dec 18, 2018 1:29 PM

North Korea is warning that recent US sanctions could take relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea back to the bristling tension of last year and endanger efforts to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

The warnings come after the US Treasury Department issued sanctions against three high-level North Korean officials last week that seemed aimed at driving a wedge between President Donald Trump, who has spoken glowingly of leader Kim Jong Un, and the rest of the administration, which is pursuing a "maximum pressure" campaign against Pyongyang.

An editorial in the state-owned news service KCNA warned that the sanctions could bring "DPRK-US relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire," and added that they are out of step with the White House.

'Sheer malice'

The editorial also said that "added sanctions pressure will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever - a result desired by no one." US officials say there is little sign that North Korea is making moves to disassemble its nuclear program; instead, recent satellite imagery shows Pyongyang is expanding its missile bases.

A statement attributed to the Policy Research Director of Institute for American Studies at North Korea's foreign affairs ministry praised the "steadfast will" of Trump and Kim for their efforts to pursue peace.

"However, the continued commission by the United States of vicious anti-DPRK hostile actions, running counter to these developments, prompts my shock and indignation," the statement reads. "US high-ranking politicians including the secretary of state have almost every day slandered the DPRK out of sheer malice."

"The US should realize before it is too late that 'maximum pressure' would not work against us," the official wrote.

Pyongyang's saber-rattling is "typical North Korean negotiating behavior," said Bruce Klingner, a former chief of the CIA's Korea branch who is now at the Heritage Foundation.

'A door prize'

"They either want a door prize before they come into the negotiating room, or they're sending a signal as to what they want," Klingner told CNN. "So it's trying to put pressure on the US to reduce pressure or provide benefits, if we want the process to continue."

Right now, Klingner noted, the US faces "three big divergences" as it tries to deal with Pyongyang. There's the divergence with North Korea itself, there's another with South Korea, which has been pushing for Washington to relax sanctions on the North, "and there's even a divergence between President Trump and the rest of the Trump administration," Klingner said.

Pyongyang's shot across the bow comes as Trump and some of his senior officials have said the President is planning a second summit with Kim early in 2019. National security adviser John Bolton has said the president wants to hold the second summit because the first, in Singapore in June, has yielded no progress.

The Trump administration slapped sanctions on three North Koreans last week in response to Pyongyang's ongoing human rights abuses and censorship.

"These sanctions demonstrate the United States' ongoing support for freedom of expression, and opposition to endemic censorship and human rights abuses," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Treasury said the fresh sanctions highlight the "reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea" and serve as a reminder of the "brutal treatment" of Otto Warmbier, the US college student who died 18 months ago after detention in a North Korean jail. Warmbier would have turned 24 on December 12.

The unnamed policy research director from the North Korean foreign ministry said the US was issuing the sanctions by "fabricating pretexts of all hues such as money laundering, illegal transactions through ship-to-ship transfer and cyber-attack."

'Non-existent human rights issue'

The official added that the US had been deliberately provocative with last week's sanctions on the "non-existent 'human rights issue.'"

The Trump administration has downplayed the importance of human rights generally and has been criticized for not giving it higher priority in its talks with North Korea. The President has declared he's in "love" with Kim, who has been deemed to have committed crimes against humanity, has had family members executed and ordered the assassination of his half-brother using chemical weapons.

Despite the President's praise for Kim, progress has been stymied. Most recently, satellite images showed North Korea is expanding a key long-range missile base, a reminder that diplomatic talks with the US have done little to prevent Kim from pursuing his promise to mass produce and deploy the existing types of nuclear warheads in his arsenal.

Both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are now emphasizing that they aren't putting a deadline on talks and that progress will take time. And both men have insisted that in the meantime, the US will continue to exert "maximum pressure" on North Korea through sanctions, though international support for that campaign appears to be faltering.

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Tonight: Today was our first dry day in a while, although we can't rule out a stray shower or thunderstorm popping up in extreme northern portions of Lake or Klamath counties. Models are hinting that most of this should stay to our north, towards the Bend area. Any lingering clouds today will quickly dissipate by the evening. However, it could prove to be a breezy night in portions of Siskiyou County. Low temperatures will drop down to the upper 30s to low 40s in Northern California, the Klamath Basin, and in the Cascades. Along the coast and in the Rogue Valley, lows will be in the upper 40s to low 50s.

Tomorrow: Our Wednesday will be substantially warmer compared to our Tuesday. Relief from the heat in the form of cloud cover will be absent. High temperatures will be in the upper 80s to low 90s in the Rogue Valley and in Northern California. Highs will be in the mid 80s in the Klamath Basin, mid 70s in the Cascades, and in the upper 60s to low 70s along the coast. The breezy conditions in Siskiyou County from tonight will carry over into Wednesday, and gusts could reach 25 mph in some coastal communities as well. 

Extended: Thursday will be even hotter than Wednesday, and it'll just be a continuation of the stale weather pattern we're about to be in. Skies should remain clear for the forseeable future, and blistering heat looks to be in store for the weekend. We could be talking about high temperature in the upper 90s to triple digits in the Rogue Valley and Siskiyou County. Highs could be in the 90s in the Klamath Basin, in the 80s in the Cascades, and in the 70s along the coast.

Most of the beneficial rain that fell over the weekend was concentrated over the coast, meaning that drought conditions probably didn't improve much in the Rogue Valley and points eastward. As we stay dry and hot throughout the rest of the week, we'll be watching for the return of favorable fire conditions, especially in Lake County. The good news is that winds appear to be light towards the end of the week, which should limit the wildfire threat to some degree.

A FREEZE WARNING has been issued for our westside valleys in Jackson, Josephine and Curry Counties until 8 AM Wednesday. Low temperatures in these areas will fall down to near and even below freezing overnight. The coldest temperatures will be in the Applegate and Illinois Valley where temperatures could dip into the upper 20s. With widespread frost and possible freezing temperatures, be sure to protect and cover any sensitive plants.
Tonight: The clear and warm day will give way to a clear and mild evening. Temperatures for inland areas this evening will stay solidly in the 50s and 60s through the 8 P.M. hour, meaning this will be a near picture perfect evening for a barbecue or Wednesday evening walk. Overnight low temperatures will also stay more mild than recently, falling into the mid to upper 30s in our westside valleys with mid to upper 20s east of the Cascades. The coast will see temperatures staying in the 40s through the overnight hours. 
Extended: Beyond Wednesday, we'll see a very gradual and slow cooling trend through the rest of the workweek, but temperatures will remain above average. Easter Weekend will start off dry, but clouds will increase and by Easter Sunday, we could be looking at some chances for rain for at least parts of our region. We'll be keeping a close eye on this system and your holiday weekend forecast. It's possible wet weather could continue into next week with cooler temperatures.

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