Tensions are once again on the rise between North Korea and the United States.
Pyongyang has conducted two missile tests in the past week, for the first time in 500 days. More recently, the US has seized a North Korean cargo ship that was allegedly operating in violation of international sanctions.
The events are likely to heighten conflict between the two countries, as US efforts to dissuade North Korea from pursuing its nuclear weapons program have stalled.
TENSIONS ON THE RISE OVER MISSILE TESTS
North Korea has conducted two missile tests in the past week.
Yesterday afternoon, the hermit nation launched two short-range missiles from the Kusong region in the country’s northwest. The missiles landed in the East Sea between North Korea and Japan.
The first missile, which was fired off on May 4, marked North Korea’s first short-range missile testing in more than 500 days.
In February, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump met in Hanoi, Vietnam. In their second summit, they tried to secure a deal on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but neither side could come to a mutually accepted agreement.
The North Korean government has refuted allegations the missile test was conducted aggressively.
“The recent drill conducted by our army is nothing more than part of the regular military training, and it has neither targeted anyone nor led to an aggravation of situation in the region,” a North Korean foreign ministry official said in a statement in the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The statement avoided using the words missile, rocket or projectile. “The successful drill of deployment and strike designed to inspect the ability of rapid reaction of the defence units … fully showed the might of the units which were fully prepared to proficiently carry out any operation and combat,” KCNA said.
Mr Trump says he knows North Korea wants to negotiate with the United States but he does not think it is ready to do so.
“The relationship continues … I know they want to negotiate, they’re talking about negotiating. But I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate,” Mr Trump told reporters at the White House.
He said “nobody is happy” about North Korea’s latest missile launch.
Earlier in the week, after the first missile launch, Mr Trump expressed his confidence in the North Korean dictator, saying he “knows that I am with him” and that a “Deal will happen!”
Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
US SEIZES NORTH KOREAN CARGO SHIP
The Trump administration has seized a North Korean cargo ship used to supply coal to the isolated nation in violation of international sanctions, law enforcement officials said.
The seizure of the vessel, detained last month in Indonesia, comes at a delicate moment between the two countries.
It follows a Pentagon decision to suspend efforts to arrange negotiations on recovering additional remains of US service members killed in the North during the Korean War.
The Justice Department said the seized ship, the Wise Honest, is one of North Korea’s largest bulk carriers and for several years had been used to deliver Russian coal to North Korea.
Payments for maintenance and equipment for the vessel were made in American dollars through unwitting US banks, a violation of sanctions that bar North Korean citizens or entities from the US financial system.
Officials say North Korea sought to conceal the vessel’s purpose by listing in shipping documentation different countries for its nationality and the origin of the coal.
“This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” said Assistant Attorney-General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.
According to a civil complaint filed on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan, the ship was intercepted and seized by Indonesian authorities on April 2, 2018.
At the time, it was about 4500 kilometres south of Nampo, North Korea, where it had been photographed a month earlier. The complaint says that after taking the load of coal, the ship sailed south with it toward Indonesia.
The vessel has since been taken into custody by the US.