Washington still united on total denuclearization

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Washington still united on total denuclearization

The Trump administration and many U.S. lawmakers across party lines still believe in a hard-line stance on North Korea, maintaining that there can be no sanctions relief before denuclearization, according to multiple diplomatic sources Thursday.

One source familiar with South Korea-U.S. relations told the JoongAng Ilbo, “The U.S. Democrats, centered around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have made clear their position that the easing of sanctions on North Korea is impossible. The U.S. administration and Congress seem to be in solidarity on taking a hard-line mode on North Korea.”

This source met with U.S. lawmakers and White House and State Department officials last Tuesday and Wednesday, after the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump fell apart last month in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Washington is clearly uncomfortable with the South Korean government pushing for the resumption of inter-Korean projects, such as Mount Kumgang tours and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, according to this source.

The source continued, saying the congressmen he met with “all kept asking what the intention of President Moon Jae-in was when calling for the easing of sanctions and the resumption of Mount Kumgang and Kaesong.” Some even asked if it was “a joke.”

They said that for both Democrats or Republicans, the “precondition for sanctions relief was North Korea’s sincere denuclearization.”

Some even said that a third North-U.S. summit should not be held if North Korea does not accept the “big deal” offered by President Donald Trump.

John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser, has even threatened that Washington may ramp up pressure and intensify sanctions on Pyongyang. Bolton, a hard-liner on North Korea who took part in the Hanoi summit, told Fox Business Network Tuesday that Washington would see whether Pyongyang was committed to giving up its “nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it.”

If North Korea is unwilling to, said Bolton, Trump has made clear that “they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them, and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up, in fact.”

He added that the North Koreans came to the Hanoi summit thinking that the United States “would accept a partial deal for the lifting of very significant sanctions, which would have given North Korea a lifeline, giving them a chance to get their breath back economically while potentially still concealing a lot of nuclear weapons capabilities, missiles and the rest of it.”

The “ball is in their court,” said Bolton, adding that Trump “is ready to make a deal.”

The source described Bolton as “playing a spokesman" role of sorts.

Even U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an advocate of dialogue with the North, has made clear that sanctions relief can’t come without denuclearization.

Lee Do-hoon, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, met with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, in Washington Wednesday to assess the second North-U.S. summit and possible next steps.

Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday said the two sides agreed this is “a very sensitive moment in making progress in the U.S.-North Korea dialogue.”

The U.S. State Department in a statement said that they “discussed continued, coordinated efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea.

Lee’s visit, days after the Feb. 27 and 28 Kim-Trump summit, came as Seoul struggles to maintain its role prodding along North-U.S. dialogue.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Thursday, “There has been talk of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tours, and we are putting much effort into trying to create conditions in which they could be resumed.”

BY CHUN SU-JIN, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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