The Bush administration is imposing trade sanctions against North Korea after U.S. officials determined that a North Korean company sold Scud missile components to Yemen. The penalties are largely symbolic, since the United States has no trade with Pyongyang on the high-tech items covered in the sanctions.
Officials here say the decision to impose the sanctions was made last week by Secretary of State Colin Powell based in intelligence reporting on the sale of the missile components, which is said to have occurred nearly two years ago.
Singled out for the U.S. penalties is the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation, described as the marketing arm of North Korea's missile export program.
Under terms of U.S. anti-proliferation law, the company will be barred from doing business with the U.S. government or from buying high-tech U.S. equipment for two years.
An amendment to the 1991 law by Senator Jesse Helms means the sanctions also apply more broadly to the North Korean government and its work on ballistic missiles and other aerospace programs.
The sanctions will have no practical effect, given the absence of technology trade with North Korea. But State Department spokesman Philip Reeker emphasized it important none-the-less to draw attention to the problem, and to uphold the law.
"These sanctions are under U.S. law," he said. "We have a legal requirement to follow the law. And when we have information that we can analyze, and determine that a violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime has taken place, we are required under the law to go ahead and impose the sanctions. And that's the action that the Secretary has taken."
Mr. Reeker added that the sanctions decision would not necessarily effect the United States' limited political relations with North Korea.
Though he listed North Korea of part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran early this year, President Bush has said the administration is open to dialogue with Pyongyang on issues of mutual concern including missile exports.
Secretary of State Colin Powell had a brief meeting with North Korea's foreign minister Paek Nam Sun last month on the sidelines of an ASEAN conference in Brunei.
On vacation this week, Mr. Powell is expected to confer soon with other senior foreign policy advisers on how to proceed with North Korea, including the possible dispatch of a U.S. envoy to Pyongyang.
North Korea has been targeted by U.S. sanctions in the past for selling missiles or related hardware to Iran and Pakistan.
U.S. officials say Yemen, cited in the latest case, has promised to end its missile relationship with North Korea and to cooperate in other areas.
A White House spokesman, with the president in California Friday, said Yemen has been taking "constructive steps" in working with the United States in the war on terrorism.