Trump: We Could Ease North Korea Sanctions if ‘Meaningful’ Denuclearization Moves Made

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Korea Summit Press Pool via AP

President Donald Trump suggested in remarks to the press on Wednesday that North Korea could one day convince the United States to drop sanctions on the communist regime there, but only when Kim Jong-un offers “something that’s meaningful” as a concession.

Trump has repeatedly stated that America would not support lifting sanctions – placed on the country for its consistent military threats against its neighbor, its illegal nuclear weapons program, and decades of brutal human rights violations against its own people – without confirmation that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat to its neighbors.

The international sanctions placed on North Korea through the U.N. Security Council are some of history’s most stringent and have severely damaged Pyongyang’s main industries despite evidence that nations like Russia and China have helped North Korea violate the sanctions. Experts believe that Kim will demand Trump lift the sanctions in their upcoming meeting next Wednesday in Vietnam.

Trump told reporters he was optimistic that the North Korean wanted to “do something” with the Americans, namely cut a diplomatic deal to their benefit.

“We’ll see what happens. The sanctions are on in full. I haven’t taken sanctions off, as you know. I’d love to be able to, but in order to do that, we have to do something that’s meaningful on the other side,” Trump explained. He added that he did not expect the Vietnam summit to be the last of its kind and that he had a “good relationship” with Kim Jong-un.

Expert studies citing satellite imaging taken of North Korea’s nuclear and military sites suggest that Pyongyang has not yet taken any “meaningful” steps towards dismantling its nuclear program. Its ballistic missile sites seem largely maintained and operational, while areas like the Yongbyon nuclear research facility, used to refine radioactive materials, also appear functional.

The North Korean government allegedly “destroyed” the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, home to most of the nation’s nuclear weapons detonations, but nuclear scientists have argued that Pyongyang provided no evidence that the interior of the facility was not operational and there is a high chance that the nuclear tests rendered the site useless before the Kim regime attempted to garner praise for destroying it, anyway.

Trump and Kim are likely to discuss what the United States would consider a “meaningful” concession in light of these realities at their meeting Wednesday. Neither side has made the specific topics on the docket for discussion public, however. Reports this week in South Korean media suggested this was partly because there is no confirmed set of topics to discuss yet. North Korea’s top negotiators have arrived in Vietnam and are meeting with the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, to lay the groundwork for the conversation between Trump and Kim. A week ago, Biegun, who had traveled to South Korea for preliminary discussions for the summit, said that the two countries did not agree on a “specific and agreed definition” of the word “denuclearization,” a significant roadblock for talks on how to accomplish this goal.

Biegun’s more recent talks with the North Koreans suggest that they have advanced into discussing the topics the two world leaders will broach but have not advanced beyond “a confirmation of each other’s positions rather than actual negotiations,” according to a report in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo. Yonhap News Agency, another South Korean outlet, suggested that North Korea will be seeking a declaration of peace for the Korean War, which has technically been raging since 1950. The ongoing Korean War is the reason why the United States keeps troops in South Korea; ending the war on paper will make it legally more difficult for the United States to maintain a military presence there.

In a fact sheet distributed to media after Trump’s comments Wednesday, the White House hinted that Trump is seeking to discuss both a complete dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program and the subsequent economic development of the country.

“The President has made clear that should North Korea follow through on its commitment to complete denuclearization, we will work to ensure there are economic development options,” the White House noted. “The United States and partners are prepared to explore how to mobilize investment, improve infrastructure, enhance food security, and more in the DPRK. Robust economic development under Chairman Kim is at the core of President Trump’s vision for a bright future for United States–DPRK relations.”

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