North Korea again lashes out at US over sanctions, threatens to ‘block the path to denuclearization’ forever

North Korea once again lashed out at the United States, accusing the State Department of “blocking the path to denuclearization” forever by strengthening sanctions amid a recent stalemate in talks between Pyongyang and Washington. The rogue regime, through a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave credit to President Trump for his efforts to improve relations … Continue reading “North Korea again lashes out at US over sanctions, threatens to ‘block the path to denuclearization’ forever”

North Korea once again lashed out at the United States, accusing the State Department of “blocking the path to denuclearization” forever by strengthening sanctions amid a recent stalemate in talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

The rogue regime, through a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave credit to President Trump for his efforts to improve relations between the U.S. and North Korea — but slammed the State Department for stifling that progress, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

"[Trump] avails himself of every possible occasion to state his willingness to improve DPRK-U.S. relations," the statement read, using the abbreviation of the country’s official name — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “[The U.S. State Department is] bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

North Korea urged the U.S. to improve relations on a "step-by-step approach of resolving what is feasible one by one, by giving priority to confidence building.” It then issued a stark warning, saying, if the U.S. failed to pull back its sanctions against the regime, it will "block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever — a result desired by no one.”

SOUTH KOREA PRESIDENT'S PLANE BLACKLISTED BY US AFTER NORTH KOREA FLIGHT, REPORTS SAY

Sunday’s statement comes after the U.S. announced new sanctions last week against three top North Korean officials: Choe Ryong Hae, who is considered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man; Jong Kyong Thaek, minister of State Security; and Pak Kwang Ho, director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department. The trio is also accused of human rights violations.

Denuclearization talks have struggled to progress since Trump and Kim’s historic Singapore summit in June. North Korea has repeatedly urged the U.S. to scale back sanctions in exchange for the regime taking steps toward denuclearization.

Despite the request — which have at times been more along the lines of threats — the U.S. has maintained the crippling sanctions. In November, the Hermit Kingdom threatened to resume its nuclear weapons program.

Trump said in a news conference after the midterm elections he expects to meet with Kim sometime early next year.

“We’re very happy how it’s going with North Korea. We think it’s going fine. We’re in no rush,” the president said. “The sanctions are on…I’d love to take the sanctions off, but they have to be responsive, too.”

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam

South Korea president’s plane blacklisted by US after North Korea flight, reports say

An act of diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula reportedly led to a brief — but inconvenient — ban that temporarily barred South Korea's leader from coming to America.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s plane was reportedly blacklisted by the United States because it transported him to North Korea amid a thawing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The surprising blacklist was a result of an executive order signed in 2017 by President Trump that expanded sanctions on North Korea. Under the order, no ship or aircraft could enter the United States for 180 days after traveling to North Korea.

There can be exceptions, however.

KIM JONG UN ‘UNIFICATION MOISTURE NUCLEAR MASKS’ TAKEN OFF SHELVES AFTER OUTCRY, BUT DEMAND IS STILL HIGH

But as a result of the North Korea-related blacklisting, a U.S. official told Chosun Ilbo that Moon’s aircraft needed the authorization to travel to the U.S. in September during a flight to the U.N. General Assembly in Argentina. Chosun Ilbo reported the aircraft was planning to make a mid-point stop in Los Angeles to refuel and meet with Korean-Americans but the plane was forced to reroute to the Czech Republic due to the ban.

A South Korean official, speaking to Chosun Ilbo, denied any assertion the plane wasn't permitted to land in Los Angeles.

AMERICAN DETAINED IN NORTH KOREA DEPORTED BACK TO US, OFFICIAL SAYS

“The change in midway stopover point from Los Angeles to the Czech Republic has nothing to do with any sanctions," the official said. “A presidential aircraft being blacklisted is nonsense."

Kathleen Joyce is a breaking/trending news producer for FoxNews.com. You can follow her at @Kathleen_Joyce8 on Twitter.

Kim Jong Un’s friend becomes second Canadian detained by China amid Huawei uproar

A businessman who's jet-skied with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and was key in arranging Dennis Rodman’s visit to the Hermit Kingdom is the second Canadian to be detained by China this week amid the uproar over a top Chinese tech executive's arrest in Canada.

Michael Spavor – who was photographed years ago by Reuters sharing a cocktail with Kim on the dictator's private boat after racing around the waters near one of his resorts – now joins former diplomat Michael Kovrig in Chinese custody.

China finally admitted Thursday that Kovrig is being held in Beijing, and claimed both men are being investigated on suspicion of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of the Communist country.

The arrests are believed to be a retaliatory act for the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. The telecom executive, who the U.S. is attempting to extradite, is accused of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, and her detention has enraged Chinese officials.

Michael Spavor is seen with former NBA star Dennis Rodman before boarding a flight in Beijing to North Korea. (AP)

It is not clear if either Spavor or Kovrig have legal representation. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang says their cases are being handled separately by local bureaus of the national intelligence agency in Beijing, where Kovrig was picked up, and the northeastern city of Dandong, where Spavor lived.

"The legal rights of the two Canadians are being safeguarded," Lu said during a media briefing Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Canadian Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Berube, meanwhile, said officials have not been able to get in contact with Spavor "since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities” and “are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts.”

Spavor runs tours of North Korea along with other "cultural exchanges" and "business projects" via his company Paektu Cultural Exchange. The company’s website says “in 2013 and 2014, [Spavor] organized the Dennis Rodman visits, and the basketball match between the DPRK and former NBA players, where he also became friends with the country’s leader Marshal Kim Jong Un.”

Years later, Spavor, in an interview with Reuters, fondly reflected on meeting Kim.

“That was the most amazing experience I’ve had in my life…We hung out for three days,” he said.

Other photographs taken at the time showed Spavor laughing and shaking hands with Kim Jong Un, and in February, he was given a front-row seat to a military parade that reportedly was off-limits to foreign media.

“Looks like we will do a little shopping buy some snacks and refreshments and then head down to the parade,” Spavor posted on his Twitter account in February, before uploading numerous videos of tanks and military vehicles rumbling through the streets of Pyongyang.

Acquaintances told the Associated Press that Spavor was due Monday in Seoul, the South Korean capital, but never showed up.

Kovrig, the other person being held, is currently employed by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that aims to “prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world."

The editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its provocative views, warned in a video Wednesday night of "retaliatory measures" if Canada doesn't free Meng.

"If Canada extradites Meng to the U.S., China's revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian," said Hu Xijin, speaking in English.

Canada also has asked China for extra security at its embassy because of protests and anti-Canadian sentiment and has advised foreign service staff to take precautions, a senior Canadian official told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kim Jong Un ‘unification moisture nuclear masks’ taken off shelves after outcry, but demand is still high

Moisturizing masks packaged in bags bearing Kim Jong Un's likeness initially flew off store shelves in South Korea — but the skincare products were soon pulled in some stores amid widespread criticism.

The masks, called “unification moisture nuclear masks” or “nuke masks,” feature a package with a beauty mask superimposed on a photo of a waving Kim. The package, which sells for 4,000 won or about $3.55, also includes slogans such as, “Should we now go over the border with a whitened face?”

NORTH KOREA TELLS CHINA IT’S COMMITTED TO DENUCLEARIZATION

The products were launched by skincare company 5149 in June and some 25,000 units have been sold, Sky News reported. Kwak Hyeon-ju, the company’s chief executive, said she hoped the masks would be seen as a celebration of the “once-in-a-lifetime” meeting earlier this year between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Despite their popularity, the masks were pulled from some store shelves, including the chain Pierrot Shopping, after public criticism for portraying Kim in a light-hearted manner, The New York Times reported.

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NORTH KOREA’S ‘PEACE GIFT’ PUPPIES TO SOUTH KOREA PICTURED FOR FIRST TIME

“The fact that the worst dictator in the world — who violates human rights of its residents — is portrayed as someone who can be part of making world peace shows that South Korean society has lost the ability to filter through and control the situation,” Kang Dong-wan, a professor at Dong-A University, said, according to The New York Times.

South Korean law makes it illegal for citizens to depict the Hermit Kingdom favorably, but the law is not enforced often. So far, the South Korean government has not officially commented about the masks.

Kathleen Joyce is a breaking/trending news producer for FoxNews.com. You can follow her at @Kathleen_Joyce8 on Twitter.

North Korea tells China it’s committed to denuclearization

BEIJING – North Korea's foreign minister said his country remains committed to ending its nuclear weapons program in talks Friday with his Chinese counterpart, according to China's foreign ministry.

The talks in Beijing between Ri Yong Ho and Wang Yi came amid a lack of progress in international efforts to persuade North Korea to reverse its drive to build a nuclear arsenal.

US CALLS UN MEETING ON UNDERMINING NORTH KOREA SANCTIONS

China is North Korea's most important ally, but has agreed to increasingly strict United Nations economic sanctions over its programs to develop nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them.

Ri told Wang that North Korea is "committed to realizing denuclearization and safeguarding the peace and stability of the (Korean) peninsula," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing.

In the talks, Ri was also expected to have been briefed on discussions last week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump, who recently said his next meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would likely happen in January or February.

TRUMP, KIM JONG UN MEET IN SINGAPORE: WHAT HAPPENED AT THE HISTORIC SUMMIT? 

Despite initial optimism generated by Kim and Trump's June summit meeting in Singapore, diplomacy has since come to a halt amid disputes over a U.S. demand that North Korea first produce a full inventory of its nuclear weapons and take other denuclearization steps before winning significant outside rewards.

China, which fought on North Korea's behalf in the 1950-53 Korean War, has suggested a more staggered approach, including a suspension of large-scale South Korean and U.S. wargames on the peninsula.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)

In addition to sanctions relief, North Korea wants a declaration on a formal close to the war, which ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and other reciprocal measures from the United States. North Korea has argued that it has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear testing facility and releasing American detainees.

While traditionally close ties between China and North Korea have frayed somewhat, Xi hosted Kim for three summits in China this year, both before and after his Singapore meeting with Trump.

NORTH KOREA'S KIM JONG UN MEETS WITH CHINA'S XI JINPING IN BEIJING

However, Xi did not attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding in September, seen as a sign that Beijing expected more concrete steps by Kim toward denuclearization.

Despite that, Geng said bilateral relations had "entered a new historic stage," and the sides would "continue forging ahead with the development of the peninsular situation in the direction of denuclearization."

Ri's visit also comes amid intense speculation over the possibility that Kim will visit South Korea this month, in what would be the first such trip by a North Korean leader since the war.

3 sites eyed for Trump-Kim summit in early 2019, president says

President Trump said Saturday that his next face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will likely be held in January or February, at a site yet to be determined.

Three unspecified locations are under consideration, the president said aboard Air Force One as he returned from a weekend trip to Buenos Aires to attend the G-20 summit, Reuters reported.

“We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship,” Trump said of Kim, according to the report.

“We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship.”

— President Donald Trump, on contact with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

The president added that he plans at some point to invite Kim to the United States.

Talks on a follow-up to the two leaders’ first meeting in June in Singapore have been underway since July, a senior U.S. official told Reuters in October.

The primary goal of discussions between the U.S. and North Korea remains the creation of “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” said a White House statement issued Saturday following Trump’s meeting in Argentina with Chinese Present Xi Jinping.

China’s influence as North Korea’s largest trading partner is viewed as key to any significant agreement between the U.S. and North Korea.

U.S. officials are seeking a “substantive next step” toward denuclearization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Saturday, adding that Washington has been seeing good progress in discussions with Pyongyang.

“We're not having missiles launched, there haven't been any nuclear tests,” Pompeo noted, citing a change in behavior from North Korea, which conducted a series of missile tests in 2017 that alarmed its closest neighbors – and had the U.S. concerned that Pyongyang was developing the capability to strike any site on the continental U.S.

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The launches – and reports of a test of a hydrogen bomb test in September 2017 — were often accompanied by fiery rhetoric from Kim, prompting Trump to often respond in kind.

At the U.N. General Assembly in New York that year, for example, Trump said the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued with its provocative actions.

The Trump-Kim summit in June of this year was designed to help ease the tensions between the two nations – though critics have questioned whether North Korea has complied with agreements reached at the historic meeting.

More recently, “We continue to have conversations about the right next step that is the right substantive next step,” toward denuclearization, Pompeo said.

China’s influence as North Korea’s largest trading partner is viewed as key to any significant agreement between the U.S. and North Korea.

North Korea’s ‘peace gift’ puppies to South Korea pictured for first time

It doesn’t seem like there’s a "ruff" relationship between the two Koreas at the moment.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in unveiled puppies that were born from one of the dogs given to the South by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “peace gifts” in September. The Pungsan dog, Gomi, gave birth to six puppies — three females and three males — earlier this month.

The official Twitter account for South Korea's presidential Blue House tweeted on Sunday photos of Moon and his wife Kim Jong-sook playing with the furry pups at their home’s courtyard. The office added the puppies are “all very healthy.”

"As the pregnancy period of dogs is about two months, Gomi must have come to us pregnant," Moon reportedly said, according to the Sky News. "As six were added to the two given as a gift, this is a great fortune. I hope inter-Korean affairs will be like this."

South Korea reportedly flew military planes filled with tangerines to North Korea days after the puppies were born.

The North Korean despot gave Moon two dogs, Gomi and Songgang, in September as a peace gesture following their third inter-Korean summit of the year.

Pungsan dogs are rare and native to the northern region of North Korea. The hunting dogs are known for their loyalty and cleverness.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam