S Korean leader urges bolder steps from N Korea and US

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to take bolder disarmament measures that the United States (US) should then reward, suggesting yesterday he wants harsh sanctions lifted so Seoul can eventually restart dormant economic cooperation projects with the North.

Some observers believe that any sanctions relief, if pursued before South Korea’s ally Washington is ready, could weaken ties with the US and complicate efforts to rid the North of its nuclear weapons. Others see the comments by Moon, a liberal who covets deep engagement with Pyongyang, as simply a symbolic bit of conciliation toward North Korea.

Moon spoke only days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in a New Year’s Day address that he was ready to resume two major stalled inter-Korean projects. Kim also said he’ll be compelled to take a different path if the US keeps pressing for unilateral sanctions against the North as well as maintaining broader United Nations (UN) sanctions.

The two projects are South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and a jointly run factory complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. They were suspended in the past decade along with other similar projects amid the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear programme. The two projects were considered key sources of badly needed foreign currency for the impoverished North.

“My administration will cooperate with the international community, including the US, to resolve the remaining issues such as international sanctions as soon as possible” to get the two projects restarted, Moon told a news conference.

A man watches a television screen showing a live broadcast of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s New Year speech at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea yesterday. – AP

Moon said resolving the issue of the North Korea sanctions hinges on how fast North Korea denuclearises and whether it receives reciprocal measures from the US. He said those would top the agenda in an expected second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

“North Korea knows it needs to take clear denuclearisation steps to see international sanctions lifted and the US also realises that reciprocal measures are needed to match these North Korean denuclearisation steps,” Moon said.

Moon, who took office in 2017, has shuttled between North Korea and the US to facilitate high-profile nuclear diplomacy that includes the first Kim-Trump summit in Singapore last June.

Moon’s overture, however, has invited criticism from conservatives in South Korea and the US that he’s making too many concessions and helping the North try to weaken US-led sanctions. Trump has maintained that sanctions on North Korea will stay in place until it completely abandons its nuclear programme.

As Moon spoke, Kim was heading back to Pyongyang after a two-day trip to his country’s only major ally China that included a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese and North Korean state media reported earlier yesterday that Kim told Xi that he’s committed to setting up a second summit with Trump to “achieve results” on the nuclear issue.

“In a word, Chairman Kim Jong-un’s visit to China is an indication that the second North Korea-US summit is drawing near,” Moon said.

Nuclear diplomacy has reported little headway since the Singapore summit, which ended with the North making a vaguely worded promise to work toward the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”