What Approach to Take on North Korean Sanctions?
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA â"
The United States has called for the continued full enforcement of United Nations sanctions on North Korea after the two Koreas moved to establish rail and road links across their shared border and South Korean President Moon Jae-in continued to make the case for easing international sanctions against Pyongyang as it makes incremental progress toward denuclearization.
In a statement to South Koreaâs Yonhap news agency Monday, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said, "We expect all member states to fully implement U.N. sanctions, including sectoral goods banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions, and expect all nations to take their responsibilities seriously to help end [North Koreaâs] illegal nuclear and missile programs.â
Washington repeatedly has said that sanctions on North Korea will remain in place until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The United Nations sanctions currently in place on Pyongyang are designed to sever the resources necessary to develop the Northâs weapons programs and deplete its cash reserves.
But Moon told Franceâs Le Figaro newspaper before leaving for a European tour, that over the course of his conversations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the âmeetings have convinced me that he has taken the strategic decision to abandon his nuclear weapons.â
"With the denuclearization of North Korea, by agreeing to destroy their nuclear arsenal, they need to have the confidence that they have made the right choice,â said Moon.
Speaking alongside French President Emanuel Macron, Moon added on Monday, âI believe the international community needs to provide assurances that North Korea has made the right choice to denuclearize and encourage North Korea to speed up the process.â
âSanctions to remain
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill said that while the atmosphere on the peninsula has changed, that wasn't necessarily facilitated by Pyongyang.
âI think people who call for a reevaluation of sanctions need to explain how North Korea has somehow changed with respect to denuclearization,â Hill said.
âI'd like to hear the argument that suggests that they've done something in denuclearization,â Hill added.
Former U.S. National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster recently said in Seoul, that âwhile we all hope that Chairman Kim Jong Un is undergoing a radical change of heart, we must remain alert.â
McMaster said the possibility remains that Kim intends to use his nuclear arsenal as a ââtreasured swordâ designed to pry apart the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, by making America think twice about ever coming to South Koreaâs aid in time of war.â
He added that in Kimâs 2018 New Yearâs Day address, the North Korean leader spoke of âreunificationâ at least ten times. âSo we must consider that North Korea may intend to hold on to these weapons because they are instrumental to achieving that âfinal victory,â which North Korea propaganda clearly states is the reunification of North and South under the Kim regime,â McMaster cautioned.
Bruce Cumings, an American scholar who has extensively studied North Korea and the Korean Peninsula said he doesnât believe Kimâs move toward denuclearization is a ploy.
âI think it's true that the basic character of the North Korean regime has not changed,â Cumings said; however, if the United States and South Korea arenât threats, he thinks itâs possible that âNorth Korea will either give up its nuclear weapons and missiles, or they'll be kept and under inspection or controlled in a way that means they really can't use them.â
But the RAND Corpora tionâs Bruce Bennett says itâs important to consider what the international community can give North Korea in exchange for progress on denuclearization.
âThe biggest mistake is sanctions relief. Sanctions are something that hold together as long as there are no holes in them,â said Bennett.
Bennett says the international community must be careful about next steps.
Although itâs likely that Kim will not accept to a limit on weapons productions, according to the Harvard Belfer Centerâs Gary Samor.
âI think the only way to find out [if Kim is serious], is to offer him a fairly substantial benefit in return,â he opined, âAnd for me, that means sanction relief and South Korean economic cooperation.â
But Samor said it must be made clear, that economic assistance and cooperation canât be put into motion, unless Pyongyang takes serious steps toward denuclearization.
Steve Miller is a veteran broadcast journalist with over a decade of experience. Much of that time he covered the Asia-Pacific region while living in South Korea. During Steve's time in Asia, he explored the region's rich history and culture (and not to mention food) while reporting on geopolitics, human rights, and tourism.