North Korea Accuses U.S. of 'Mugging' Diplomats at JFK Airport

  • Officials took diplomatic package in ‘violent assault’: KCNA
  • KCNA report comes just days after return of U.S. student

North Korea has accused U.S. officials of assaulting a delegation at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport by forcibly seizing a diplomatic package they were carrying.

The group was returning from a United Nations conference on Friday when the incident occurred, the official Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.

More than 20 police officers and others "made a violent assault like gangsters to take away the diplomatic package from the DPRK diplomats who were in possession of a valid diplomatic courier certificate," KCNA said, using the initials for North Korea’s formal name.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK regards this mugging by the U.S. as an intolerable act of infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK and a malicious provocation, and strongly condemns it," KCNA said in the report. It did not mention what was in the package.

The KCNA report comes during a period of escalated tensions with the U.S. over the regime’s weapons programs, and shows how difficult it will be to move toward talks specifically on reining in Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that U.S. diplomats have already held discussions for more than a year with North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, focused on freeing American prisoners.

U.S. student Otto Warmbier was recently returned from North Korea in a “very” serious condition. He’d been in a coma for over a year, CNN reported.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, criticized North Korea’s treatment of Warmbier, saying in a statement the onus is on Pyongyang to "clarify the causes and circumstances of the release."

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he isn’t seeking regime change in Pyongyang, though he has also threatened military action if it develops an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. In a Bloomberg interview in May, Trump said he was open to meeting Kim "under the right circumstances."

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