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Cooperate with Washington

Mar 08,2019
Since the collapse of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, Washington has been increasingly demonstrating dissatisfaction with the Moon Jae-in administration’s attitudes toward North Korea. The South Korean government is even proposing a lifting of sanctions on the recalcitrant state, including the resumption of operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours to Mount Kumgang. Former U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow expressed concerns about Seoul rushing to rapprochement with Pyongyang in a forum in Washington.

Laura Rosenberg, former director of the White House’s National Security Council, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in which she argued that even a partial lifting of sanctions will benefit North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reportedly complained to his South Korean counterpart by phone about Seoul talking about exempting the joint industrial park and Mount Kumgang tours from United Nations sanctions.

Even in the United States, the opposition Democratic Party appreciated Trump for making “no deal” — instead of a “bad deal” — with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the Hanoi summit. The Democratic Party is rolling up its sleeves to resubmit a bill for a tougher secondary boycott to block North Korea from accessing international financial networks. Both Democrats and Republicans are united on the sanctions front despite disagreeing on everything else.

In such a hostile environment, North Korea is showing alarming signs of reacting negatively to the U.S. demand for complete denuclearization. It may be restoring a missile test site in Tongchang-ri. In reaction, Washington is hinting at the possibility of imposing additional sanctions.

If our government ignores the hostile atmosphere in Washington and keeps talking about lifting sanctions, it will complicate the situation rather than allow it to play the role of mediator in U.S.-North dialogue. Seoul’s overly lenient attitudes toward Pyongyang will deepen Washington’s suspicions and weaken the alliance. If the Moon Jae-in administration falls into the North’s trap of driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington, we can’t have a united front on denuclearization.

The government must urge Kim to make a bold decision while cooperating with Washington on the sanctions. Fortunately, Uncle Sam is still in touch with North Korea after the collapse of the summit. Our government must persuade Pyongyang to accommodate a big deal with Washington.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 8, Page 30