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North declined relief for Kaesong, Kumgang

Nov 22,2019
North Korea turned down an American offer in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February for sanctions exemptions for two economic projects with South Korea, according to new accounts by diplomatic sources.

The sources, who were familiar with the exchanges at the failed second summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea in Hanoi, said Pyongyang was unwilling to accept relief for individual projects like the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours and wanted wholesale relief from several United Nations sanctions blocking foreign investment in its economy.

At a press conference following the summit, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said the North asked the United States to lift five of 11 sets of UN sanctions on its economy, those passed in resolutions from 2016 to 2017 that “hamper the economy and livelihood of [North Korea’s] people,” for which Pyongyang proposed to “permanently and completely dismantle all the material in the nuclear material production facilities in the Yongbyon area including plutonium and uranium,” Ri said.

That suggestion proved unacceptable to U.S. President Donald Trump, who walked out of the discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that day, even skipping a schedule lunch.

Seoul, which had high expectations for the summit, saw months of efforts to free up its Kaesong and Mount Kumgang projects from sanctions go up in smoke.

Eight months later, on Oct. 23, the North announced that Kim had ordered the removal of all South Korean-owned facilities from Mount Kumgang resort and subsequently rejected Seoul’s overtures for dialogue on the subject.

If true, the sources’ accounts contradict a long-established narrative on the Hanoi summit that Washington had been consistently opposed to sanctions relief for Kaesong and Mount Kumgang.

High-ranking figures in the U.S. State Department had publicly stated both before and after Hanoi that there were no plans to reconsider sanctions for the twin projects and that Pyongyang would first need to take major steps toward its denuclearization for sanctions to be lifted.

The North Korean demands for sanctions relief may have particularly referred to UN Resolution 2375, adopted in September 2017 in response to a nuclear test, which cut 30 percent of oil and 55 percent of petroleum products going into North Korea and completely banned all member states from investing or partaking in joint economic projects with the regime.

On Wednesday, while on a trip to Moscow for meetings at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Choe echoed remarks from several senior North Korean officials in recent days by saying Pyongyang had no interest in resuming denuclearization negotiations with Washington unless the United States lifts its “hostile policy” toward the North.

“I have no message [to give to the United States],” Choe told reporters, “But it is my thought that discussions related to nuclear issues are probably no longer on the table from now on.”

If the United States does not retract its so-called hostile policy - which the North’s top nuclear negotiator Kim Myong-gil said on Tuesday meant those related to its “security and development” - Choe said Pyongyang would not be interested in high-level talks or another summit.

BY JUNG HYO-SHIK, SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]