SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea on Sunday criticized the United States for slapping sanctions on Pyongyang officials and organizations for a cyberattack on Sony Pictures — the latest fallout from a Hollywood movie depicting the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
An unnamed spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, in rhetoric that closely mirrors past statements, denied any role in the breach of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files and accused the United States of "groundlessly" stirring up hostility toward Pyongyang. The spokesman said the new sanctions would not weaken the country's 1.2-million-strong military.
The spokesman told the North's official media mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, that the sanctions show America's "inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK," referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"The policy persistently pursued by the U.S. to stifle the DPRK, groundlessly stirring up bad blood toward it, would only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country," the spokesman said.
The United States on Friday sanctioned 10 North Korean government officials and three organizations, including Pyongyang's primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer, in what the White House described as an opening move in the response toward the Sony cyberattack.
The sanctions might have only a limited effect, as North Korea already is under tough U.S. and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. President Barack Obama also warned Pyongyang that the United States was considering whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which could jeopardize aid to the country on a global scale.
American officials portrayed the sanctions as a swift, decisive response to North Korean behavior that they said had gone far over the line. Never before has the U.S. imposed sanctions on another nation in direct retaliation for a cyberattack on an American company.
There have been doubts in the cyber community, however, about the extent of North Korea's involvement. Many experts have said it's possible that hackers or even Sony insiders could be the culprits, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the sanctions announced Friday were "a good first step" but didn't go far enough.
Menendez told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that he had written to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to consider putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, "which would have far more pervasive consequences."
The 10 North Koreans singled out for sanctions didn't necessarily have anything to do with the attack on Sony, senior U.S. officials said. Anyone who works for or helps North Korea's government is now fair game, especially North Korea's defense sector and spying operations, they said.
North Korea has expressed fury over "The Interview," an anti-Pyongyang Sony comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. It has denied hacking Sony, but called the act a "righteous deed."
Sony initially decided to call off the film's release after movie theaters decided not to show the film. After Obama criticized that decision, Sony released the movie in limited theaters and online.
Questions remain about who was behind a nearly 10-hour recent shutdown of North Korean websites. The United States never said whether it was responsible, but North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission blamed the U.S. and hurled racial slurs at Obama, calling him a reckless "monkey in a tropical forest."
Such hateful comments are not new: Pyongyang has similarly attacked other U.S. officials and called South Korea's female president a prostitute.