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(LEAD) Russel: U.S. asks countries to downgrade or sever diplomatic ties with N. Korea

All News 04:14 September 29, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details, background)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- The United States has asked countries around the world to "downgrade or sever" diplomatic and economic relations with North Korea in the wake of Pyongyang's fifth nuclear test, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

"North Korea views diplomatic meetings and visits as important markers of its international legitimacy. This month, we instructed our embassies around the world to ask host governments to condemn the test and take further additional actions to downgrade or sever diplomatic and economic ties," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said.

"As of September 25, 75 countries have issued statements condemning the test and several others have canceled or downgraded planned meetings or visits with officials from North Korea," he said in a statement prepared for a Senate hearing.

The request, which is believed to be the first of its kind, underlines the U.S. commitment to isolate the North.

Russel also said that there has been progress in efforts to implement U.N. Security Council sanctions on the North, including the shutdown of operations of the North's U.N.-designated shipping line, Ocean Maritime Management Co,, and the reduction in the North Korean state air carrier Air Koryo's landing privileges at foreign airports.

Other cases of progress included the expulsion of North Korean diplomats involved in illicit activities from Bangladesh, South Africa, Myanmar and other countries as well as Taiwan's halt of imports of North Korean coal and Malta's ending of visa extensions for North Korean workers, Russel said.

"There is more to do. North Korea's coal exports, mostly to China, generate over $1 billion in revenue for the regime annually and account for about a third of all export income," Russel said.

"We are working to build on previous U.N. Security Council resolutions to address loopholes that allow North Korea to export coal and iron ore, earning precious foreign currency for the Kim regime on the backs of enslaved workers, including children," he said.

Russel urged China to do more to pressure the North.

"We recognize China's concerns that pressure on North Korea could precipitate a crisis, but we point out that its nuclear and missile programs pose a far greater threat to regional security. We acknowledge China's steps to implement U.N. sanctions but repeatedly urge China to improve implementation and apply pressure needed to effect a change in North Korean behavior," he said.

Despite Chinese objections, Russel warned, the U.S. will continue to take all necessary steps to deter and defend against North Korean threats, including the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, while not shying away from unilateral actions against North Korean actors, "including those located in China."

The remark means that the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions on Chinese companies just as it blacklisted China's Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. Ltd., its owner and three other company officials in a landmark move representing the first-ever sanctions on a Chinese entity over Pyongyang's weapons programs.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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