SKorea Defers to President Trump on SKorea Sanctions
US President Donald Trump warned SKorea could “do nothing” on lifting NKorea sanctions without his approval, leading to SKorea to walk back a proposal to do so.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha had said Wednesday that Seoul was considering lifting measures applied after a deadly attack in 2010 that killed 46 SKorean sailors. She cited the intent to create more diplomatic momentum for talks over NKorea’s nuclear program.
SKorean conservatives reacted with anger as well, and FM Kang’s ministry downplayed her comments later, saying in a statement that the government has yet to start a “full-fledged” review of sanctions, meaning no decision was imminent.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a parliamentary audit Thursday there has been no serious consideration given to lifting the sanctions and that doing so would be hard unless North Korea acknowledges responsibility for the 2010 attack. NKorea has fiercely denied it sank the Cheonan warship.
Liberal SKorean President Moon Jae-in hopes that progress in nuclear diplomacy will allow him to advance his ambitious plans for engagement with North Korea, including joint economic projects and reconnecting inter-Korean roads and railways. These projects have been held back by the sanctions against NKorea.
While arguing that improved inter-Korean relations could possibly facilitate progress in larger nuclear negotiations between the US and NKorea, Cho said Seoul is not ready yet to campaign for reduced pressure against its rival.
“At the current stage, I think it’s a little early for us to call for the lifting or easing of the UN sanctions,” Cho said.
President Trump’s response when he was asked about Kang’s comments implied friction between the allies over the pace of inter-Korean engagement amid concerns in Washington that NKorea is lagging behind in its supposed promise to denuclearize.
“They will not do that without our approval,” President Trump said of the comments. “They do nothing without our approval.”
President Trump has encouraged US allies to maintain sanctions on NKorea until it denuclearizes as part of what his administration has termed a campaign of “maximum pressure” against leader Kim Jong Un’s government.
President Moon has mostly stayed firm on sanctions despite actively engaging with NKorea and floating the possibility of huge investments and joint economic projects in return for the North’s relinquishment of its nuclear weapons.
Washington has insisted that efforts to improve relations between the Koreas should move in tandem with efforts to denuclearize the North.
Kang said Wednesday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed displeasure about the Koreas’ military agreement. Kang was not specific but her comments are likely to fuel speculation Washington was not fully on board before Seoul signed the agreement.
Despite the current mood of detente and negotiation between the Koreas, the removal of sanctions would be a difficult decision for Seoul’s government.