North Korea hits back at US after new sanctions

As North Korean leader Kim Jong'un met children at an orphanage, tensions continued to rise between his country and the US. Picture: Reuters
As North Korean leader Kim Jong'un met children at an orphanage, tensions continued to rise between his country and the US. Picture: Reuters
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NORTH Korea yesterday criticised the United States for imposing sanctions on Pyongyang officials and organisations for a cyber attack on Sony Pictures – the latest fallout from a Hollywood movie depicting the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader.

An unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman, in rhetoric closely mirroring past statements, denied any role in the breach of tens of thousands of confidential Sony e-mails and business files and accused the US of “groundlessly” stirring up hostility toward Pyongyang.

The spokesman said the sanctions would not weaken the country’s 1.2-million-strong military. He told the North’s official media mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, the sanctions show America’s “inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK”, referring to the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The policy persistently pursued by the US to stifle the DPRK, groundlessly stirring up bad blood toward it, would only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country,” the spokesman said.

On Friday, the US sanctioned ten North Korean government officials and three organisations, including Pyongyang’s primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer, in what the White House described as an opening move in the response toward the Sony cyber attack. The sanctions might have only a limited effect, as North Korea is already under tough US and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

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President Barack Obama also warned Pyongyang that the US was considering whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which could jeopardise aid to the country on a global scale.

American officials portrayed the sanctions as a swift, decisive response to North Korean ­behaviour they said had gone far over the line. Never before has the US imposed sanctions on another nation in direct retaliation for a cyber attack on a US firm.

There have been doubts in the cyber community, however, about the extent of North Korea’s involvement.

Many experts have said it is possible hackers, or even Sony insiders, could be the culprits, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.

The ten North Koreans singled out for sanctions did not necessarily have anything to do with the attack on Sony, senior US officials said.

Anyone who works for or helps North Korea’s government is now fair game, especially North Korea’s defence sector and spying operations, they said.

North Korea has expressed fury over The Interview, an anti-Pyongyang Sony comedy. It has denied hacking Sony, but called the act a “righteous deed”.

Sony initially called off the film’s release after cinemas decided not to show the film. After Mr Obama criticised that decision, Sony released the movie in limited cinemas and online.

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