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(Yonhap Interview) Sanctions on N.K. leader 'just the start,' more blacklisting to come: senior U.S. diplomat

2016/07/08 10:00

By Chang Jae-soon, Shin Ji-hong and Shim In-sung

WASHINGTON, July 7 (Yonhap) -- The unprecedented U.S. sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other top officials are "just the start," and there will be more blacklisting, a senior American human rights diplomat said Thursday.

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, made the remark in an interview with Yonhap News Agency and Yonhap News Television, a day after the U.S. imposed its first sanctions on the North's leader for his roles in human rights violations.

"The list is just the start. There are I think many others who could be added to the list. We need to keep on gathering information," Malinowski said during the interview at the State Department. "We will continue to add names to the list as more information comes in."

   Malinowski said the State Department is required to update the list every six months under the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act but updating could be made "more frequently than that" depending on the information the U.S. gets.

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency and Yonhap News Television at the State Department on July 7, 2016. (Yonhap) Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency and Yonhap News Television at the State Department on July 7, 2016. (Yonhap)

On Wednesday, the State Department released a report on the North's human rights situation, recommending sanctions against 15 top officials, including leader Kim, as well as eight state entities. Of them, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 11 officials and five agencies as the others have already been blacklisted for other reasons.

It was the first time the U.S. has imposed direct sanctions on the North's leader and the designation also marked the first U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang over its human rights abuses. It shows the U.S. is committed to ratcheting up pressure on Pyongyang.

The North's Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the sanctions, blasting the blacklisting as an "open declaration of war" and threatening to cut off all diplomatic channels with the U.S. unless the designation is revoked immediately.

The U.S. rejected the demand, saying it will continue to work with the international community to maintain the international attention on the North's "deplorable" human rights situation and to press for Pyongyang to cease such violations.

"I think this is the fourth time this year that North Korea has called an action by the U.S. government or the South Korean government a declaration of war. The rhetoric is what we have become used to," Malinowski said, brushing off the North's statement.

Malinowski said that the blacklisting shows the U.S. truly cares about the North Korean people.

"This is the first time that we, or any government, I believe, has ever tried to release a comprehensive list of officials within the North Korean government, not just the leader, but at the middle levels who are responsible for the worst aspects of its repression," he said.

"The effect is to show these people: We know who you are, we know your name, we know what you do, and if things change on the Korean Peninsula, there will be a very different future for you if you get involved in these cruel acts," he added.

The diplomat also rejected views that the blacklisting shows the U.S. is not interested in talks with the North, saying that despite many years of sanctions on Iran and its leaders, the U.S. achieved a diplomatic resolution of Tehran's nuclear program.

"We remain interested in any opportunity that may exist for a diplomatic resolution that will maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "I think that's a misunderstanding of sanctions to suggest that they mean that the door is closed to diplomacy."

   Malinowski said the U.S. will continue to work to improve the North's human rights situation, including working with the U.N. Security Council where the issue is part of the permanent agenda, documenting abuses in the North and working with the South Korean government.

He also said that the U.S. supports the U.N. Commission of Inquiry's report that calls for referring the North's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. But he added that such a referral would be an "uphill climb" as China is expected to veto it.

The U.S. will also work closely with activist groups to get outside information into the North, he said.

"We want to keep working with foundations and NGOs, and with the South Korean government to try and get more honest information to the people of North Korea; news, books, documentary films, soap operas and music, and all the things that they need to be able to make their own choices about their future. That's an important part of our work," he said.

Malinowski also rejected views that the sanctions aren't merely symbolic.

"They're not only symbolic. I really do believe that there are many people in the North Korean system who know that it may not last forever, who know that there may be a different future five years, 10 years, 20 years from now, and who may worry about their own prospects in that kind of future Korean Peninsula; a peninsula that is more democratic and more unified," he said.

"I think they will understand that it is not in their interest to see their name on this blacklist, that those people will be disadvantaged in that changed future. We hope that this will make some of those officials think twice so that they don't get on this list," he added.

Malinowski declined comment on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's willingness to hold talks with the North's leader but added that there has been strong bipartisan support for the sanctions from the Republicans and the Democrats alike.

"I'm confident without commenting on the election that the United States will continue along this path in a very steady way," he said.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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