U.S. sanctions Turkish firm, North Korean diplomat for weapons trade

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions against a Turkish-based company, its top directors, and a North Korean diplomat, accusing them of trading in weapons and luxury goods with Pyongyang in violation of international sanctions.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin testifies to the House Financial Services hearing on state of the international financial system on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The latest sanctions come as Washington maintains pressure on Pyongyang to dismantle its missile and nuclear programs. U.S. sanctions have targeted North Korea’s trade routes in an effort to choke off funding for the weapons programs.

The U.S. Treasury said in a statement that SIA Falcon International Group, which also has a branch in Latvia, would be blacklisted for exporting weapons into or from North Korea.

It also listed SIA Falcon Chief Executive Huseyin Sahin and its general manager, Erhan Culha, for having “acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly SIA Falcon.”

Additionally, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Ri Song Un, the economic and commercial counselor at North Korea’s embassy in Mongolia. It said SIA Falcon officials hosted Ri earlier this year in Turkey to negotiate weapons deals with him.

Calls to SIA Falcon’s offices in Istanbul seeking comment went unanswered, and calls to its office in Latvia were met with a pre-recorded message in Arabic.

“SIA Falcon International Group and individuals acting on its behalf are blatantly attempting to flout longstanding UN sanctions on trade in weapons and luxury goods with North Korea,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The company’s operations span defense, livestock, energy and food products, according to the SIA Falcon website. It described itself as “one of the biggest companies ... in the defense industry,” saying it supplied armed services and security forces of more than 30 nations on five continents.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Pyongyang on Sunday to resume negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on dismantling the country’s missile and nuclear programs.

Part of the talks will focus on a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump, possibly later this year.

The two leaders met in Singapore in June, where Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. His actions, however, have fallen short of Washington’s demands for irreversible steps to give up an arsenal that potentially threatens the United States.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Ezgi Erkoyun and Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Berkrot