PYONGYANG, North Korea - Months after touting a historic breakthrough in peace talks with North Korea, the U.S. President Donald Trump's administration hit a roadblock towards its plans to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
In the months after Trump's meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June this year, the two countries have held several rounds of denuclearization talks.
Yet, both the sides have failed to make any credible progress in fulfilling the vow made by the two leaders in Singapore - of total and complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Over the last few months, talks have come to a standstill as North Korea has demanded relief from sanctions before abandoning its nuclear weapons and missiles.
However, the U.S. has insisted on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament before easing the crippling economic sanctions against the country over its intensified nuclear weapons program.
Last week, with no breakthrough in sight, the Trump administration sought to step up pressure on the nuclear nation, by slapping sanctions on three North Korean officials over alleged human rights abuses.
The U.S. State Department said that it was introducing sanctions on North Korea's Security Minister Jong Kyong-thaek, its Propaganda Official Pak Kwang-ho and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's top aide and right-hand man - Choe Ryong-hae.
The State Department even vowed to seize the U.S. assets of all the three top North Korean officials with immediate effect.
In the official announcement, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said, "Human rights abuses in North Korea remain among the worst in the world and include extrajudicial killings, forced labour, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence."
However, experts were quick to point out that the decision by the U.S. could cause irreversible damage to the recent thaw in diplomatic ties between the two nations that have exchanged threats more frequently since Trump assumed office in 2017.
'Shocked by greatest U.S. miscalculation'
Responding to the latest U.S. sanctions, the North Korean Foreign Ministry released a statement on Sunday, expressing "shock and indignation" at the move by Washington.
The country's Foreign Ministry angrily denounced the U.S. sanctions against three of its top officials and labelled the move "the greatest U.S. miscalculation."
In the statement quoted in the North Korean news agency KCNA, the North Korean Foreign Ministry credited Trump for his "willingness" to improve relations with the North (DPRK), but accused the U.S. State Department of being "bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire."
It further said in its statement that Washington had taken "sanctions measures for as many as eight times against the companies, individuals and ships of not only the DPRK but also Russia, China and other third countries..."
The Foreign Ministry said that if the U.S. administration believed that heightened sanctions and pressure would force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, "it will count as (its) greatest miscalculation, and it will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever - a result desired by no one."
The return to hostilities between the two sides comes merely a month after working-level talks between the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were cancelled abruptly in November.
Earlier this month, Trump told reporters that he could hold a second meeting with the North Korean leader very soon.
However, on Saturday, Trump said that he was in no hurry to meet Kim Jong Un, who he nicknamed the "little rocket man" last year.