By Daphne Psaledakis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on five entities it accused of providing support to North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, increasing pressure on Pyongyang following a recent series of missile launches.
The Treasury Department in a statement said the action targets the Ministry of Rocket Industry, which it said is a North Korean weapons of mass destruction research and development organization directly linked to the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
It also designated four of the organization’s subsidiaries – Hapjanggang Trading Corporation, Korea Rounsan Trading Corporation, Sungnisan Trading Corporation, and Unchon Trading Corporation.
North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new sanctions.
Friday’s move follows a rise in tensions with North Korea after two ballistic missile tests on Feb. 26 and March 4 that involved a new ICBM system that North Korea is developing, and last week’s first full ICBM test conducted by North Korea since 2017.
“The DPRK’s (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s) provocative ballistic missile tests represent a clear threat to regional and global security and are in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.
“The United States is committed to using our sanctions authorities to respond to the DPRK’s continued development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” she said.
Washington’s move on Friday follows measures imposed by Japan, which froze the assets of six North Koreans for involvement in North Korea’s weapons projects.
South Korean officials have reported new construction at the North’s only known nuclear test site, which was shuttered in 2018.
There are increasing signs that North Korea could soon test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017 in a bid to improve its arsenal and increase political pressure, U.S. and South Korean officials and analysts said.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Michael Martina, Chris Gallagher and Michelle NicholsEditing by Marguerita Choy and Alistair Bell)