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Sanctions relief may be possible

JoongAng Ilbo source says Washington is mulling flexibility
Dec 05,2018
The U.S. government is willing to lift some economic sanctions on North Korea if the regime demonstrates “sincere measures” toward denuclearization, a source with knowledge of Pyongyang-Washington talks exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he wasn’t specifically told whether that meant the United States was willing to ease its own unilateral sanctions on the North or give sanctions exemptions to third countries, including South Korea, to carry out joint projects with Pyongyang.

The United States, one of five veto-wielding members in the United Nations Security Council, has a crucial say in UN sanctions on the North. Unanimous approval from a UN North Korean sanctions committee composed of the five countries - the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France - and 10 nonpermanent members on the UN Security Council is normally required for a sanctions waiver.

If the former hypothesis is true, it would mean Washington is willing to ease sanctions even before North Korean carries out total denuclearization, which goes against the long-held mantra of the White House that sanctions will not be eased before the North’s final, fully verified denuclearization, or FFVD.

The source told the paper that Washington’s definition of “sincere measures” from the North included a partial inventory of its nuclear weapons and facilities or allowing outside experts to inspect the Yongbyon nuclear plant.

Officials in the U.S. government who are involved in discussions with North Korea are currently looking over the sanctions easing option, said the source.

A South Korean government source said Tuesday that the United States was frustrated over Pyongyang’s reluctance to accept its offer of high-level talks.

“On the part of Washington, they were like, ‘Even if we do try to ease sanctions on the North, they’d have to come to the discussion table for us to know specifically which sanctions they want easing of,’” said the South Korean government source, who asked not to be named.

The local source said Washington was “skeptical” about Pyongyang’s intention to negotiate denuclearization when it keeps asking for easing of sanctions but refuses to actually show up for talks.

On the record, the U.S. government has never mentioned easing sanctions on the North before its final denuclearization. After South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Trump last Friday in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit, the White House said in a statement that both leaders “agreed on the importance of maintaining vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions to ensure the DPRK understands that denuclearization is the only path to economic prosperity and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.” DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

If the Washington source was referring to an easing of sanctions on projects that other countries were trying to carry out with North Korea, one example would be South Korea’s joint railway survey with the North, which is ongoing. The United States allowed Seoul last month to carry fuel and other equipment into the North for the railway project.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, CHUN SU-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]