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(LEAD) N. Korea calls tougher U.S. sanctions an act of war

All Headlines 18:23 February 25, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with details from 3rd para)

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea accused the Donald Trump administration Sunday of elevating a war crisis on the peninsula through a set of tougher sanctions on Pyongyang despite Olympics-driven inter-Korean exchanges.

In a statement issued by an unnamed foreign ministry spokesperson, the North stressed that every type of "blockade" by the U.S. against it will be considered an act of war.

It added that the communist nation possesses nuclear weapons to cope with Washington's threats, describing it as a treasure-like "sword for justice."

The U.S. will be held responsible for "all tragedies" from a situation when Korea is pushed to the brink of war due to its reckless behavior, said the ministry.

The Trump administration on Friday announced what it calls the strongest-ever sanctions against the North, targeting its vessels, shipping companies and other entities believed to be conducting trade prohibited under previous sanctions.

The new measures are aimed at preventing the secretive North from exploiting some loophole in existing U.N. sanctions, especially for under-the-radar fossil fuel transactions.

The sanctions target dozens of ships, shipping companies, and other firms that allegedly help Pyongyang fund its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.

Trump publicly called the measures "the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before.”

“We must continue to stand together to prevent the brutal dictatorship from threatening the world with nuclear devastation," he said at a news conference.

If the steps don't work, Trump warned, the U.S. will move to a "phase two" that could be "very, very unfortunate for the world."

The North said the U.S. is trying to completely block its maritime trade amid reports that additional "maritime crackdown" on the North is among the options.

The new round of stand-offs between Pyongyang and Washington came as the two Koreas are in a rare mood of reconciliation. A breakthrough was reached thanks to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea's eastern town. The North sent athletes to the games along with high-level delegates, including leader Kim Jong-un's influential sister, Kim Yo-jong, to related ceremonies here.

President Moon Jae-in received an invitation to visit Pyongyang for what would be the third inter-Korean summit talks.

Many view the North's recent peace offensive as part of efforts to drive a wedge between the allies and break its longstanding isolation.


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