SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Thursday that U.S. sanctions on leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials for human rights abuses are tantamount to declaring war.
The country's Foreign Ministry issued a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency saying the announcement of sanctions on Kim and 10 other officials was "peppered with lies and fabrications" and demanding the sanctions be withdrawn.
"Now that the U.S. declared a war on the DPRK, any problem arising in the relations with the U.S. will be handled under the latter's wartime law," the statement says, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
North Korea has already been sanctioned heavily because of its nuclear weapons program. However, Wednesday's action by the Obama administration was the first time Kim has been personally targeted, and the first time that any North Korean official has been blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury in connection with reports of rights abuses.
The North Korean statement called the sanctions a "hideous crime." It demanded that the sanctions be retracted or else "every lever and channel for diplomatic contact between the DPRK and the U.S. will be cut off at once."
U.S. and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, although they retain a channel of communication through the North's diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the U.S. stands by its decision to impose the sanctions.
"We once again call on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region. I can't see how this rhetoric does anything but that," he told reporters in Washington when asked about the North Korean response.
North Korea frequently uses harsh rhetoric and denunciations of the United States, and threats of hostilities are not uncommon.
On Wednesday, the State Department also released a report, mandated by Congress, on human rights abuses in North Korea. Administration officials said it was intended to name and shame responsible officials in North Korea's government, and send a message to lower and mid-ranking officials to think twice before engaging in acts of cruelty and oppression.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday the new sanctions could cause North Korean officials to think twice before committing rights abuses.
"It is important," he told reporters during a visit to Ukraine, "that all North Korean officials know and understand going forward that at all levels there are consequences for actions and they hopefully might consider the implications of those actions," he said.
In addition to blacklisting Kim, the Treasury Department blacklisted officials at the Ministry of State Security — which it said administers political prison camps and is engaged in torture and inhumane treatment of detainees — and the Ministry of People's Security which operates a network of police stations, interrogation centers and labor camps.
The State Department said North Korean political prison camps hold between 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners, including children and other family members.