South Korean officials say the North is open to talks with the United States despite the latest bellicose announcements from Pyongyang.

The South Korean presidential office said that the comment was made in a meeting between President Moon Jae-in met and the North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics, and that both sides agreed that inter-Korean relations and North Korea – U.S. relations should go hand in hand.

Earlier a statement by the North’s official KCNA news agency said the latest U.S. sanctions against North Korea constitute an ‘act of war.’

The statement accused the United States of raising tensions on the Korean peninsula and noted that Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons to cope with Washington’s threats.

US sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Friday what he called the “largest ever” set of sanctions against North Korea and threatened a “phase two” if the measures aren’t effective.

The sanctions target one person, 27 companies and 28 ships registered in China and seven other countries with the intent of eliminating North Korea’s illicit shipping and trade. They block assets held by the companies in the U.S. and prohibit U.S. citizens from interacting with them.

Since August of last year, the U.S. has helped oversee three rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea. The pressure has not stopped Pyongyang from conducting more nuclear and missile tests.

The new sanctions’ effectiveness depends on whether they can successfully be implemented. And the U.S. has limited leverage over many of the shipping companies involved in helping North Korea evade sanctions, warns Gary Samore, former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

“A lot of the companies working with North Korea are very small,” Samore said. “And they don’t care whether they work with the United States.”

China protests

China responded angrily Saturday to the new sanctions, maintaining they are counterproductive to efforts to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and long-range missile development programs.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Beijing “resolutely opposes” the U.S. for “enacting unilateral sanctions” and vowed to “seriously handle” the issue in accordance with the law. The ministry also demanded that the U.S. immediately lift the sanctions “to avoid harming bilateral cooperation in the relevant area.”

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