South Korea Lowers The Bar On North Korean Sanctions Relief After US Demands Full Denuclearization First

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The Trump administration has made it clear that there will be no sanctions relief for North Korea until it completely denuclearizes, but some countries are setting the bar a little lower.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed after the historic June 12 summit that the U.S. will not lift sanctions on North Korea until it sees complete denuclearization. His comments came amid much speculation that President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would weaken efforts to put pressure on the North. Pompeo’s South Korean counterpart seemed to give credibility to such concerns Monday.

“Our stance is that the sanctions must remain in place until North Korea takes meaningful, substantive steps towards denuclearization,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters, appearing to indicate that the easing of sanctions could occur if North Korea began to take concrete steps in the right direction on the denuclearization issue.

In the immediate aftermath of the summit, there was a great deal of confusion concerning sanctions, as North Korean state media claimed that Trump had offered to lift sanctions. The Trump administration quickly moved to set the record straight. “President Trump has been incredibly clear about the sequencing of denuclearization and relief from the sanctions,” Pompeo said on June 14. “We believe that Chairman Kim Jong Un understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearization, that he understands that we must do this quickly, and that sanctions relief … cannot take place until such time as we have demonstrated that North Korea has been completely denuclearized.”

Dozens of South Korean companies are reportedly eager to do business with the North, but sanctions make any such engagements difficult, if not absolutely impossible.

The South Korean foreign minister’s statements come on the heels of a suggestion by China after the summit that sanctions on North Korea be eased as a reward for Pyongyang’s commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. (RELATED: Russia Makes Diplomatic Play In Pyongyang, Possibly Further Eroding Trump’s Maximum Pressure Strategy)

“The U.N. Security Council resolutions that have been passed say that if North Korea respects and acts in accordance with the resolutions, then sanction measures can be adjusted, including to pause or remove the relevant sanctions,” a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said June 12. “China has consistently held that sanctions are not the goal in themselves. The Security Councils actions should support and conform to the efforts of current diplomatic talks towards denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and promote a political solution for the peninsula.”

Prior to the summit, the Trump administration applied a “maximum pressure” strategy to North Korea. The president no longer uses this term, but the administration intends to continue to pressure North Korea until it completely denculearizes. It is unclear if the U.S. will be able to maintain this policy if the North’s neighbors start to cave.

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