ROK walks back on talk of lifting sanctions
Trump has said Seoul cannot do anything without approval from US
Seoul is not considering lifting its unilateral sanctions toward Pyongyang as US President Donald Trump retorted that Seoul could “do nothing” without Washington’s approval.
“No detailed review (on lifting the sanctions) has been made,” the Republic of Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told lawmakers during a Thursday government audit.
“Still, in seeking inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation and amid improving relations between the two neighbors, we have been taking measures in a flexible manner,” Cho said.
Cho’s remark came a day after ROK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that the government is reviewing whether to lift the sanctions called May 24 Measure and imposed on Pyongyang in 2010.
The US remains firm that no sanctions relief will come until the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea completely gives up its nuclear weapons program, Associated Press reported.
Trump has responded that Seoul cannot lift sanctions without Washington’s say-so.
“They won’t do that without our approval. They do nothing without our approval”.
Trump has also encouraged US allies to maintain sanctions on the DPRK until it denuclearizes as part of what his administration has termed a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Pyongyang.
At a Thursday parliamentary session in Seoul, Kang watered down her statement, saying there are no fullfledged moves under way to remove the May 24 Measures.
Sun Xihui, an associate professor with the national institute of international strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the ROK is the US’ important ally in Asia, and also a crucial source of support for Washington’s policy toward Pyongyang.
As Seoul has been at the forefront of the tensions with Pyongyang, it needs the US’ security protection and thus has to obey Washington’s strategic arrangements.
Sun noted that the ROK has natural advantages in communicating with the DPRK, and has played an important role in improving US-DPRK relations.
During ROK President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Pyongyang last month, he and the DPRK top leader Kim Jongun agreed to normalize operations at the Kaesong factory park and resume joint tours to the DPRK when possible, voicing optimism that the international sanctions could end and allow such projects.
The neighbors also announced measures to reduce conventional military threats, such as creating buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border. Kim also said it would dismantle its main nuclear facility if Washington takes unspecified corresponding measures.
The US, however, has insisted efforts to improve relations between Seoul and Pyongyang should move in tandem with efforts to denuclearize the peninsula.
Zhang Liangui, a Korean studies expert at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said that the ROK hopes to use the lifting of sanctions to improve ties with the DPRK, yet the US thinks this may not be cohesive with its policy. He noted that the US call for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization is seen by the DPRK as an unilateral demand which runs counter to its promise to build better US-DPRK relations and establish a peace regime on the peninsula, as agreed at the Kim-Trump summit in June.
With regard to the denuclearization issue, Cho expressed optimism that there will be “progress” when the leaders of the US and DPRK meet again following their Singapore summit. The two earlier agreed to hold their second meeting “at the earliest possible date”.
“When it comes to the results, there could be different expectations so we are preparing for all possible scenarios to keep inter-Korean relations, exchanges and cooperation going,” Cho said.