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Seoul imposes sanctions over illegal arms deals with Pyongyang

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South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

South Korea levied fresh unilateral sanctions on individuals and entities involved in North Korea’s illegal weapons trade with Russia and other countries Thursday, hours after the president warned against weapons deals between Pyongyang and Moscow at the United Nations.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol underscored that arms deals between North Korea and Russia would be a “direct provocation” against the South.

“It is paradoxical that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, entrusted as the ultimate guardian of world peace, would wage war by invading another sovereign nation and receive arms and ammunition from a regime that blatantly violates UN Security Council resolutions,” Yoon said, in reference to Russia.

Russia is one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, along with Britain, China, France and the United States.

He added that “if North Korea acquires the information and technology necessary to enhance its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities in exchange for supporting Russia with conventional weapons, the deal will be a direct provocation threatening the peace and security of not only Ukraine but also the Republic of Korea.”

The South Korean Ministry on Thursday announced its latest sanctions on North Korea, designating 10 individuals and two entities.

They were accused of weapons trading with three countries including Russia, assisting in North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and engaging in illegal financial transactions.

The sanctions come as a “stern response to North Korea’s illegal activities that pose a serious threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” said the ministry in a statement.

The newly blacklisted individuals include North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam, Pak Su-il, former head of the North’s Korean People’s Army’s General Staff, and Slovakian national Ashot Mkrtychev.

Mkrtychev, a U.S.-sanctioned arms dealer, is accused of having worked with North Korean officials to obtain over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions for Russia in exchange for materials ranging from commercial aircraft, raw materials and commodities for the North.

The two designated entities are Slovakian company Versor S. R. O, which Mkrtychev heads, and Glocom, a front for defense company Pan Systems Pyongyang, which has been sanctioned by Seoul since 2016 for attempting to sell weapons to Eritrea.

This marks South Korea’s 12th unilateral sanctions measure against the North since the launch of the Yoon administration in May 2022. A total of 64 individuals and 53 entities have been blacklisted during the period.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a rare bilateral summit in Russia’s Far East, seen as an occasion to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries. This may have provided an opportunity for North Korea and Russia to seal an arms deal in possible violation of UN Security Council resolutions, as Moscow has been looking to replenish its depleted ammunition stockpile amid its war in Ukraine, while Pyongyang has been eager to acquire Russian technologies related to nuclear-powered submarines, missiles and satellites.

Yoon, speaking to the 193-member General Assembly Wednesday, stressed that South Korea, together with its allies and partners, “will not stand by idly” should such an arms transaction take place between the North and Russia.

South Korea, elected as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2024 to 2025 term, “commits to playing a responsible role in promoting and building global peace,” he added.

Yoon further underscored that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs “pose not only a direct and existential threat to the peace of the Republic of Korea, but also is a serious challenge to peace in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.”

South Korea is also committed to supporting Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction efforts by providing $300 million dollars next year and $2 billion for a mid-to-long-term support package, Yoon said, referring to his pledge made at the Group of 20 Summit in New Delhi earlier this month.

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In his speech, Yoon noted that in the face of today’s “multifaceted global crises of an unprecedented scale, divides among countries are widening” in areas including security, economy, technology, health, environment and culture.

The theme of the 78th UN General Assembly was “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Global Solidarity.”

Yoon said South Korea increased next year’s official development assistance (ODA) by more than 40 percent despite its domestic fiscal austerity measures. He said the funds will be allocated to “foster development cooperation tailored to the needs of our partner countries,” including in education, training and other capacity-building measures.

South Korea also plans to launch a “Carbon Free Alliance,” an open platform to promote the adoption of carbon-free energy, Yoon said, as a part of efforts to reduce the climate divide.

He added South Korea is seeking renewable energy solutions, employing high-efficiency carbon-free energy such as nuclear power and hydrogen to pursue carbon neutrality, and also plans to share these energy sources with countries vulnerable to climate change.

South Korea is scaling up its green ODA, including contributing an additional $300 million to the Incheon-headquartered Green Climate Fund (GCF), Yoon noted.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, shakes hands with Swiss President Alain Berset in New York on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, shakes hands with Swiss President Alain Berset in New York on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

He also stressed South Korea’s intention to “play a leading role in bridging the digital divide,” which he said is a major cause of the economic divide.

Yoon stressed South Korea is ready to support the digital transformation of countries with limited digital penetration and utilization to enhance global citizens’ access to education, health care and financial services.

“Korea intends to give back to the international community by sharing its experience of economic growth and development, reciprocating the help it has received in the past,” Yoon said, recalling the support South Korea received to rise from the ruins of the 1950-53 Korean War more than 70 years ago.

Yoon said that South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in the port city of Busan, “a gateway that links the Eurasian continent and the Pacific,” could “serve as a platform of solidarity, through which the world citizens can overcome crises and spread freedom together.”

This marks the second consecutive year that Yoon gave an address to the UN General Assembly.

The Russian Embassy to Seoul issues a statement on Facebook Thursday expressing “deep regret” for President Yoon Suk Yeol’s remarks at the UN General Assembly. [FACEBOOK]
The Russian Embassy to Seoul issues a statement on Facebook Thursday expressing “deep regret” for President Yoon Suk Yeol’s remarks at the UN General Assembly. [FACEBOOK]

The Russian Embassy to Seoul in a statement released on Facebook later Thursday expressed “deep regret” for President Yoon’s remarks at the UN General Assembly, stressing that Russia is fulfilling its international obligations while maintaining relations with its “good neighbor and longtime partner” North Korea.

The embassy called on the South Korean leadership “to base their actions on a sober and objective assessment of the current situation as well as the negative consequences of Seoul’s continued pursuit of the anti-Russian line for bilateral Russian-South Korean relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Continuing his relay of bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN events, Yoon on Wednesday held summits with leaders of countries including Switzerland, Colombia, Central African Republic, Israel, Mauritius, Hungary, Thailand, Bulgaria, Greece, Kyrgyzstan and Eswatini.

First lady Kim Keon Hee also took part in diplomatic efforts to promote Busan’s World Expo bid, including attending a reception hosted by U.S. first lady Jill Biden at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York on Wednesday, according to Yoon’s office.

The presidential couple are expected to wrap up their six-day trip to New York and return to Seoul on Saturday.

First lady Kim Keon Hee, left, chats with U.S. first lady Jill Biden at a reception hosted at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
First lady Kim Keon Hee, left, chats with U.S. first lady Jill Biden at a reception hosted at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]