The Foreign Affairs Committee of the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly condemned the new sanctions as a “heinous act against humanity” in a rare letter to the US House of Representatives, according to North Korea’s state media.
While Pyongyang officials have condemned moves by Washington in the past a direct protest to Congress is a rarity.
Pyongyang normally expresses its displeasure with Washington through statements by the Foreign Ministry or other institutions, or through representatives at its United Nations’ mission in New York.
It’s not unprecedented for North Korea to directly contact the US legislature or government. Pyongyang sent letters to the United States in 1984 calling for the opening of three-way talks between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington.
But Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said Friday’s protest was notable as it was sent by the recently revived parliamentary foreign affairs committee, which was discontinued by Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong Il, in 1998.
The move to restart the committee has been seen as an attempt to create a “window” for contacts with the outside world — Seoul and Washington in particular.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency reported the letter was sent on Friday but it is not entirely clear exactly how this was carried out as North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations and virtually no official channels of communication.
The House passed the new sanctions bill on May 4 with an overwhelming majority.
The vote, 419-1, targeted North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes as well as the country’s shipping industry and use of alleged slave labour.
It also requires the Trump administration report to Congress within 90 days on whether North Korea should be reinstated on the government’s state sponsors of terror list.
Such a designation would trigger more sanctions, including restriction on US foreign assistance.
America’s top military officer in the Pacific Admiral Harry Harris Jr has warned lawmakers that it’s a question of when, not if, Pyongyang successfully builds a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US.
Representative Thomas Massie was the sole member to vote against the measure.
The Senate will take it up next and will need to approve the proposals before they can be implemented.
The bipartisan legislation is aimed at thwarting North Korea’s ambitions by cutting off access to the cash the regime needs to follow through with its plans.
Specifically, the bill bars ships owned by North Korea, or by countries that refuse to comply with UN resolutions against it, from operating in American waters or docking at U.S. ports. Goods produced by North Korea’s forced labor would be prohibited from entering the United States, according to the legislation.
The North also announced last week that it thwarted what it claims was a CIA-backed attempt to assassinate Kim.
On Friday, its Central Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement suggesting the United States and South Korea are harbouring suspects and should extradite them to the North immediately.