The United Nations said on Monday that an armistice which halted the 1950-53 Korean War remains valid despite claims by North Korea to have scrapped the accord.
“Let me just stress here that the armistice agreement is still valid and still in force” as it was approved by the UN General Assembly, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. “The terms of the armistice agreement do not allow either side, unilaterally, to free themselves from it.”
North Korean state media had said earlier that the armistice was “completely invalid.” That statement came as Pyongyang steps up tensions over UN sanctions against a nuclear bomb test last month and joint South Korean-US military exercises launched on Monday.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon believes that the 60-year-old armistice remains a “critical” document, said Nesirky.
Ban calls on North Korea “to continue to respect the terms of the armistice agreement as it was approved by the General Assembly,” the spokesman added.
Meanwhile on Monday, the Washington slapped sanctions on North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank and four senior officials, upping the pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme .
The new measures imposed by the Treasury and State Departments comes after Pyongyang flouted international resolutions and conducted its third nuclear test last month, triggering global condemnation.
Washington will “continue to work with allies and partners to tighten national and international sanctions to impede North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs,” US national security advisor Tom Donilon said in New York.
The Treasury imposed sanctions on the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) of North Korea and Paek Se-Bong, the chairman of the North’s Second Economic Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the production of ballistic missiles.
Separately, the US State Department named to its sanctions list three North Korean officials with links to Pyongyang’s weapons program.
They are Pak To-Chun, head of the Munitions Industry Department, Chu Kyu-Chang, alternate member of the Korean Worker Party’s political bureau, and O Kuk-Ryol, Vice Chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission.
“North Korea uses FTB to facilitate transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network, which is under increasing pressure from recent international sanctions,” said David Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The State Department warned Pyongyang that it would “continue to face isolation if it refuses to take concrete steps to comply with its international obligations and address the concerns of the international community.”
US sanctions forbid any US individual, business or organisation from any transactions with the people or groups named.
The announcement came as South Korea and the United States launched joint drills Monday involving thousands of troops, defying North Korea’s apocalyptic threat to repudiate the 60-year-old Korean War armistice in retaliation.
The start of the two-week “Key Resolve” exercise follows a week of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang also threatening nuclear war over UN sanctions.
Donilon, speaking to the Asia Society, called such statements “highly provocative” but reaffirmed that Washington was “committed to the defence of our homeland and our allies.
“North Korea’s claims may be hyperbolic, but as to the policy of the United States, there should be no doubt: We will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea.”
He also reiterated that Washington was willing to hold “authentic negotiations with North Korea,” but said it “refuses to reward bad North Korean behaviour.”
“To get the assistance it desperately needs and the respect it claims it wants, North Korea will have to change course,” he said.
“No country, including China, should conduct ‘business as usual’ with a North Korea that threatens its neighbours. China’s interest in stability on the Korean Peninsula argues for a clear path to ending North Korea’s nuclear program,” he stressed.