US: North Korea used chemical agent VX to kill Kim Jong Un half-brother | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 07.03.2018
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US: North Korea used chemical agent VX to kill Kim Jong Un half-brother

Kim Jong Nam was killed by a chemical warfare agent on the orders of the North Korean government, the US has concluded. Amid signs of improved inter-Korean relations, Washington has put new sanctions on Pyongyang.

The US government on Tuesday claimed that the chemical warfare agent VX was used by Pyongyang to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam (above, left), at Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program of any kind," Nauert said.

The US allegations come a year after Malaysian authorities determined Kim Jong Nam's death was caused by VX, a highly toxic nerve agent that is colorless, odorless and tasteless.

VX exposure can be treated, but an antidote needs to be used quickly to be effective, Malaysia's health minister said Kim Jong Nam died 20 minutes after exposure.

Sanctions largely symbolic

Additional US sanctions on Pyongyang came into effect due to the finding, including restrictions on US foreign assistance, financial aid and arms sales, adding to a list of other measures to which the regime is already subject. 

The prohibitions appeared largely symbolic, as they duplicate existing sanctions already imposed by the US on imports to North Korea.

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Announcement hours after historic Korea meeting 

The State Department's announcement comes at a sensitive time for the Korean peninsula and the US, as a delegation from South Korea — including five presidential envoys — ended a historic visit to Pyongyang during which they agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday welcomed North Korea's offer of denuclearization talks as positive and "sincere."

Trump credited Washington's "very, very strong" sanctions push, as well as "big help" from China, for the diplomatic breakthrough and refused to rule out a historic meeting with Kim.

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"We have come a long way at least rhetorically with North Korea," Trump said. "We are going to do something, one way or the other, we are going to do something and not let that situation fester."

North Korea's leader was said to be willing to consider abandoning costly and controversial weapons of mass destruction programs if the US agrees not to attack or overthrow the regime.

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Doan Thi Huong escorted into court in Malaysia (Reuters/Lai Seng Sin )

Vietnamese woman Doan Thi Huong is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam

Murder trial continues

Kim Jong Nam was killed on February 13, 2017 at the international airport in Kuala Lumpur. Two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong are accused of smearing his face with the banned chemical weapons agent VX. They are the only suspects in custody and are both on trial for his murder in Malaysia. Their lawyers have previously said they thought they were carrying out a prank for a television show. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The Pentagon has said previously that North Korea probably has a long-standing chemical weapons program with capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents.

Pyongyang has denied the accusations, saying they are a part of a campaign against its nuclear program.

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jbh/se (Reuters, dpa)

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