The US government on Monday slapped sanctions on four people and eight organizations accused of aiding North Korea's government through illicit trade, the Treasury Department said.
This file photo shows a military parade at the Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang(Photo: AFP)
President Barack Obama issued an order freezing assets and imposing travel bans, as Washington stepped up pressure after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March which was blamed on Pyongyang.
Obama also expanded the scope of US sanctions to cover those involved in the trade in drugs and luxury goods to and from the dirt-poor nation.
Among those targeted was a secretive branch of the Korean Worker' Party, known as Office 39, which is suspected of selling methamphetamine in China and South Korea and acquiring luxury items for North Korea's leaders.
The group is thought to be involved in a failed attempt to buy two Italian-made luxury yachts worth more than 15 million dollars for North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-Il.
"North Korea's government helps maintain its authority by placating privileged elites with money and perks such as luxury goods like jewelry, luxury cars and yachts," said the Treasury Department's sanctions tsar Stuart Levey.
Among those also targeted were the head of North Korea's intelligence agency Kim Yong-Chol, who has been linked to the March torpedo attack that killed 46 people on the South Korean ship. Pyongyang denies any role in the attacks.
Green Pine Associated Corporation, a group said to be controlled by Kim Yong-Chol's intelligence agency, was also sanctioned.
The organization was accused of "exporting arms or related materiel from North Korea," and is said to specialize in the production of maritime military craft and armaments.
"(Green Pine) has exported torpedoes and technical assistance to Iranian defense firms" the Treasury department said.
Other individuals, including two members of the North Korea's General Bureau of Atomic Energy were also sanctioned.
Others targeted included the head of North Korea's atomic energy bureau Ri Je-son and Ri Hong-Sop, who according to the United Nations, once ran the controversial Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center.
The center is suspected of producing fissile materiel used in nuclear weapons testing.
Talks to ease the nuclear standoff with North Korea have spluttered, but during a visit to China, North Korea's ailing leader Kim Jong-Il reportedly backed the resumption of talks Monday.
Chinese television quoted Kim as saying that North Korea's stance on ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons was unchanged and the country "is not willing to see tensions on the peninsula".
Kim pledged to remain in close consultation with China and hoped for the "early resumption" of six-party nuclear disarmament talks that also include South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia, it said.
China hosts the six-party talks which began in 2003. The North walked out in April 2009 and staged its second atomic weapons test a month later.