North Korea says U.N. chief ‘picking a quarrel’ with sanctions remarks

February 23, 2018 - 7:37 AM
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres gives a speech during a ceremony at Lisbon University where Guterres received his honoris causa degree, Portugal February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea on Thursday accused United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres of “picking a quarrel” with Pyongyang by praising international sanctions for putting pressure on the country over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

North Korea’s U.N. mission said in a statement that Guterres had made “reckless remarks” during a speech last week to the Munich Security Conference.

“This is nothing but an absurd sophistry inappropriate to his duty as Secretary-General of the United Nations and only make us to think whether he is a kind of henchman who is representing the United States,” the North Korean U.N. mission said.

The governments of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are in a standoff over the North’s development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States. Months of tension were marked by Trump and Kim exchanging insults, fueling fears of war, until this month when the relationship between North Korea and U.S. ally South Korea showed signs of thawing.

The United States was to blame for the situation on the Korean Peninsula, said the North Korean U.N. mission, criticizing Guterres for not mentioning Washington in his Munich speech.

Guterres told the conference: “It is important to note that the unity that the Security Council has been able to … put, through sanctions, a very meaningful pressure over North Korea, and that pressure in my opinion is absolutely essential to be maintained.”

The Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

The North Korean U.N. mission asked Guterres to push the Security Council to welcome “the process of improved inter-Korean relations and discouraging neighboring countries from disturbing the process.”

Kim Jong Un surprised the world when he said North Korea would join the Winter Olympics in South Korea, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in has delayed military exercises, feted Kim’s sister at the Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang and given conditional consent to a summit.

Guterres said in his speech that “even if the relations between the two Koreas improved, let’s be clear that is not the central question we are facing. The central question remains the question of denuclearization.”