North Korea on Tuesday condemned last week’s decision by the U.S. to seize the impounded DPRK-flagged Wise Honest ship, describing the move as a “complete denial” of the spirit of last year’s Singapore joint agreement by the two countries.
In a press statement issued by a spokesperson for the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Pyongyang accused Washington of an “illegal and atrocious act of robbery” through its detention of the vessel.
The statement comes less than a week after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last Thursday filed a civil forfeiture action against the Wise Honest, which had been held in Indonesia since April 2018. It reportedly arrived in American Samoa on Saturday.
“The U.S. behavior is the extension of the U.S. way of calculation to make us succumb to the ‘maximum pressure’,” the spokesperson said in a Korean-language statement, describing the move as a “complete denial of the basic spirit of the DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement of June 12 which pledges to establish new DPRK-U.S. relations.”
Calling for the ship’s immediate repatriation, the unnamed spokesperson said Pyongyang would keep an eye on future actions taken by the Trump administration.
“The U.S. should deliberate what kind of consequences will be caused by its gangster-like behavior for the development of circumstances in the future and return our vessel without any delay,” the statement read. “We will sharply watch the future movement of the U.S.”
The spokesperson also condemned the U.S. government for citing its own unilateral sanctions and UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) in seizing the ship.
“As the United Nations Security Council ‘resolution sanctions’ recklessly infringe upon the autonomy of our country, we have categorically rejected and denounced them,” they said.
“Moreover, the U.S. shameless behavior of compelling countries to abide by its domestic law is a reckless violation of the universal international law.”
International law stipulates that “sovereign country cannot be subject to any other country’s jurisdiction in any case,” the spokesperson insisted.
“The time when the U.S. could make the world go around at its own will is past… and if the country believes that we belong to the group of countries on which the U.S.-style logic of ‘power’ work, there would be no greater miscalculation than that.”
The U.S. State Department did not respond to an NK News request for comment on the statement in time for publication.
Last Thursday saw the U.S. DOJ say the ship had been operating under the auspices of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and that it had been defying UN resolutions since at least 2016.
Payments for the maintenance, equipment, and improvements of the Wise Honest had been made in U.S. dollars, it added — breaching U.S. economic sanctions prohibiting the export of financial services “to or for the benefit of North Korea.”
As is common with North Korean ships operating overseas, the Wise Honest was at the time of its detention last year found to be sailing under both DPRK and Sierra Leone flags, and had turned off its automatic identification system (AIS) ahead of its entry into Indonesian territory.
It was said to have been transporting 25,500 tons of coal worth at least $2,990,000 from the DPRK’s Nampo terminal, and was reportedly set to conduct an illegal ship-to-ship transfer (STS) off the coast of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province.
Tuesday’s comments are, notably, the first press statement issued by a DPRK foreign ministry spokesperson in nine months and the first by Pyongyang concerning the Wise Honest.
Prior to this week, the most recent had come in August 2018, when Pyongyang denounced the U.S. for its decision to issue a North Korea Sanctions and Enforcement Actions Advisory and reinforcing sanctions.
Senior NK Pro analyst Rachel Minyoung Lee noted the foreign ministry had opted to issue “a relatively higher-level pronouncement to comment on this issue.”
“In recent months, the North opted to use lower-level vehicles like answer to KCNA, Foreign Ministry institute pronouncements, or comments attributed directly to Foreign Ministry officials,” Lee said.
“This indicates the importance the North is attaching to this issue,” she added. “That said, what is also important to note is that this pronouncement is relatively moderate in tone: it falls short of issuing a threat of action, simply saying it will ‘sharply watch future U.S. moves’ after denouncing the U.S. for its “act of robbery” and calling on the U.S. to return the ship.”
The speed of Pyongyang’s response to Thursday’s seizure, Lee continued, also highlighted the importance of the comments.
“This seems to track with ongoing DPRK media behavior of quickly issuing official comments in reaction to major events while still leaving the door open to talks,” she said. “This assessment will change significantly if the North chooses to carry this FM pronouncement domestically tonight or tomorrow.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. Justice Department
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