U.S. sanctions North Korea over VX assassination of Kim Jong Nam

WASHINGTON — The U.S. has determined that Pyongyang used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and has imposed sanctions in response, the State Department said Tuesday.

The prohibitions appeared largely symbolic, such as sales to North Korea under the Arms Export Control Act and barring the export of national security-sensitive goods and technology to the country, which has no relations with the United States.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson determined North Korea had “used chemical weapons in violation of international law or lethal chemical weapons against its own nationals,” the department said.

Kim’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 13, 2017. Two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, are on trial on charges of murdering Kim by smearing his face with VX.

The new sanctions came as President Donald Trump said North Korea seems “sincere” in its apparent willingness to halt nuclear tests ahead of possible talks with the U.S.

“I think that they are sincere. And I think they’re sincere also because of the sanctions and what we’re doing with respect to North Korea, including the great help that we’ve been given from China,” Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Word of possible talks was delivered by a South Korean delegation on its return from a meeting with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Monday.

The agreement follows a flurry of cooperative steps taken by the Koreas during last month’s PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea.

Tensions had run high during the previous year because of a barrage of North Korean weapons tests. North and South Korea technically remain at war.