North Korea's Ambassador to the UN, Kim Song, held a rare news conference Tuesday at UN Headquarters in New York, where he said Washington's seizure of the North Korean cargo ship, called the Wise Honest, was unlawful.
"The United States has committed an unlawful and outrageous act of dispossessing our cargo ship Wise Honest by forcibly taking it to the American Samoa under the pretext of unilateral sanctions and violation of its domestic law. We are condemning in strongest terms this act of dispossessing of our cargo ship."
Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced it had seized the ship, on suspicion of violating U.S. domestic law and international sanctions by smuggling coal, the first direct seizure of a North Korean ship by American authorities.
The ship had been detained before in Indonesia in April 2018.
In Tuesday's presser, the North Korean ambassador also called for the ship's immediate return.
Last week, Kim had sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in which he similarly claimed the unilateral U.S. sanctions go against the UN Charter and international law.
Responding to the press conference, a U.S. State Department official reportedly said the international sanctions remain in place and are to be enforced by all UN members.
According to Voice of America, the official said the U.S. remains open to diplomatic negotiations with Pyeongyang to make further progress on its promise to denuclearize.
Some think the North's appeal to the UN is not simply about the legality of the ship's detention but the bigger picture of talks with the U.S.
"North Korea appealing to the international society could be an effort to diplomatically pressure the U.S. by arguing that the overall sanctions policy on the North represents U.S. hegemony. Thus, if the talks don't go well, the North has the option of blaming the U.S."
Go also said that the tug-of-war over the vessel could hinder the denuclearization talks even further, because Pyeongyang could make the ship's release pre-condition for coming back to the table.
Lee Ji-won, Arirang News.