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U.S. Imposes New Sanctions On North Korea


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Eric Westervelt. President Obama said last month that the U.S. would respond to the hack attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in the place, time and manner of his choosing. With an executive order signed yesterday, the president has taken the first steps in posing new sanctions on North Korea, which the FBI blames for the attack.

We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with more on the response. Tamara, what can you tell us about these new sanctions?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This is the first time the U.S. government has imposed sanctions because of a cyber attack on a private company. But U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said North Korea, quote, "crossed a threshold here with the hacking of Sony Pictures, and the sanctions are meant to signal that cyber attacks will not be tolerated." They also say that this was just among a series of provocations from North Korea.

The sanctions target three entities and 10 individuals. And they say that these folks didn't have any direct involvement with the hacking, but that the sanctions are targeting the North Korean government and, in particular, its defense industry. These people and entities will not be able to do business with U.S. firms or financial institutions. And the executive order the president issued also leaves a lot of room for additional sanctions.

WESTERVELT: And remind us why the administration is adding these new sanctions against North Korea.

KEITH: Sony Pictures had their systems hacked. And the FBI says North Korea was behind that attack. Now some cyber security experts have cast doubt on that. But U.S. government officials made it clear in announcing these sanctions that they stand by the assessment that North Korea was at fault.

WESTERVELT: All because of the movie "The Interview."

KEITH: "The Interview," a bromance.

WESTERVELT: Tamara, are these mostly symbolic sanctions? I mean, North Korea's already under significant sanctions.

KEITH: Significant. There have been four UN Security Council resolutions adopted since 2006, as well as two U.S. sanctions programs. These are largely targeted at North Korea's weapons development - nuclear weapons development. So you could easily argue that these new sanctions are just piling onto a pretty big pile already.

U.S. officials insist, though, that these are new and different because they name 10 individuals, most of whom work for the country's main arms dealer. They say that this naming them is going to make it very hard for those people to do business basically anywhere in the world. The White House also says that there are more sanctions yet to come.

WESTERVELT: And some sanctions are targeting North Korea's military intelligence units. That could be more than symbolism.

KEITH: It could be, except it seems highly unlikely that anyone in U.S. financial institutions is doing business with the North Korean intelligence agency either.

WESTERVELT: Tamara, the White House press secretary says this is just the first phase of the response. I mean, does that mean the U.S. wasn't responsible for those Internet outages in North Korea in recent weeks?

KEITH: It's not entirely clear. U.S. officials were asked about that, and one U.S. official, speaking anonymously, said he wouldn't comment on the North Korean Internet outage and then went on to say that it's even possible they did it to themselves.

WESTERVELT: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks for joining us.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.