U.S. tried flexibility on North sanctions

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U.S. tried flexibility on North sanctions

Washington drafted a statement last month saying that partial sanctions relief could be considered depending on North Korea’s implementation of denuclearization measures — with a so-called snapback mechanism that could reinstate sanctions if necessary.

It was floated by the United States after China and Russia circulated a draft resolution in the Security Council on Dec. 16 providing partial easing of sanctions on North Korea, a source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.

The so-called snapback clause would reinstate sanctions if the North failed to implement denuclearization measures. It could have signaled flexibility by Washington on denuclearization — or the “new approach” demanded by North Korea by the end of the year.

Amid a deadlock in denuclearization negotiations, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, who was visiting Seoul on Dec. 16, told South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul that Washington was ready to reach a “balanced” agreement with Pyongyang through “feasible steps and flexibility.”

Pyongyang previously signaled it was open to sanctions relief even with such a snapback clause.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui reportedly told diplomats in a closed-door briefing in Pyongyang last March that U.S. President Donald Trump had been “flexible” on the easing of sanctions during his summit with leader Kim Jong-un in February 2019 in Hanoi on the provision there was a “snapback” clause that would reinstate the sanctions should North Korea resume nuclear activities. At that time, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, then the White House national security adviser, had been opposed.

Last month, China and Russia circulated a draft Security Council resolution that would provide partial sanctions relief, lifting a ban on North Korean exports of seafood, textiles and statues and exempt inter-Korean rail and road projects from United Nations sanctions. It also called for a lifting of a ban on overseas North Korean workers.

Reuters reported Monday that the United States put forward a draft press statement on the issue, but that move was dismissed by Russia and China. It also said that a Security Council diplomat accused Russia and China last Sunday of coordinating with North Korea on the draft resolution.

The presidency of the 15-member Security Council rotates each month and the United States was the president in December.

Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun said in a Security Council meeting on Dec. 11 that it was “imperative” that they take action and “invoke the reversible provisions” in Pyongyang-related resolutions as soon as possible and “make necessary adjustments” to the sanctions measures in areas related to North Korean people’s livelihoods.

During a ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee meeting earlier this week, North Korean leader Kim warned that Pyongyang was no longer obligated to keep its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, while still apparently keeping open the door to negotiations with Washington. Kim made 11 references to sanctions at the meeting, and a North Korean Foreign Ministry report released Wednesday said that Pyongyang’s long confrontation with Washington “has now been compressed to a clear stand-off between self-reliance and sanctions.” Kim added that if the United States pursues hostile policies, it will unveil new strategic weapons until Washington “rolls back” such policies and a “lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built.”

In contrast, in a speech in the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly in April 2019, Kim said he will not “obsess” over the lifting of sanctions.

Article 28 of UN Security Council Resolution 2397 of December 2017 provides that the council shall keep North Korea’s “actions under continuous review and is prepared to strengthen, modify, suspend or lift the measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK’s compliance,” referring to the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“There is no evidence yet that the United States has changed its existing position,” said Woo Jung-yeop, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank in Seoul. “If North Korea agrees to an end state of denuclearization, the United States may show a certain level of flexibility.”

BY LEE YU-JUNG, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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