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Going soft on sanctions

Oct 17,2018
South Korean President Moon Jae-in seems to be determined on his European tour to call for an easing of international sanctions on North Korea. On his visit to France, the first destination on the trip, Moon urged French President Emmanuel Macron to ease sanctions when denuclearization reaches a point of no return. Moon believes such measures would help build trust between Seoul and Pyongyang and between Washington and Pyongyang.

But Macron responded to Moon’s demand coldly. He emphasized the need to maintain UN sanctions until North Korea takes substantial steps toward denuclearization. At the same time, he reiterated the principle of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID). His remarks translate into a de facto rejection of Moon’s request. Macron’s strong position on the issue led to the inclusion of the term CVID in their joint statement after Monday’s summit in the Élysée Palace.

However, the Blue House’s interpretation is different. It said that France, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, had to use the same term — CVID — as specified in Security Council resolutions. That does not make sense. Macron’s statement reflects the international community’s views.

At first glance, Moon’s request to ease sanctions once denuclearization has reached an irreversible point may sound reasonable. But the steps North Korea has taken so far — including a promise to shut down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and Tongchang-ri missile test site — have nothing to do with the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons. They only signify a suspension of the North’s future nuclear development. Security analysts even say North Korea has been secretly reinforcing its nuclear capabilities.

An agreement on Monday between Seoul and Pyongyang to hold a groundbreaking ceremony by early December to upgrade North Korea’s old railway and road systems also causes problems as the work will most likely violate UN sanctions. UN Security Council Resolution 2397 clearly stipulates a ban on any supplies, sales and shipments of industrial machinery, transportation means, steel and other metals to North Korea. An attempt by South and North Korean staff to check the conditions of a railway across the border in August already failed due to the UN Command’s disapproval.

The government must change its strategies to reduce friction with Uncle Sam. It has been taking advantage of U.S. President Donald Trump’s flexible and adventurous personality, but such a policy has severe risks.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 17, Page 30