South Korean leader Moon Jae-in announced on Thursday that he would ask the United States to lift sanctions on North Korea, in part to allow Seoul more contact with Pyongyang.
At a press conference held at the President’s Blue House and attended by around 180 journalists, Moon argued that both sides must step up their negotiating efforts if they want significant progress to be made.
“I believe North Korea needs to take practical denuclearization steps more boldly if it wishes to resolve the issue of international sanctions because the issue of international sanctions depends on the speed of North Korea’s denuclearization process,” he said. “I believe corresponding measures too must be considered to further promote North Korea’s denuclearization process.”
Moon also welcomed recent comments by Kim Jong-un indicating that denuclearizing the Korean peninsula remains his “firm will,” but only if the United States steps up its diplomatic efforts by relieving sanctions on the country’s fragile economy.
“If the United States takes sincere measures and corresponding action to our leading and pre-emptive efforts, then relations will advance at a fast and excellent pace through the process of implementing definite and groundbreaking measures,” Kim said in a New Year address, filmed from an armchair.
“We welcome North Korea’s intention to resume their operation without conditions or compensation,” Moon said, despite growing evidence that the regime is still developing its nuclear assets. “My administration will cooperate with the international community, including the United States, to resolve the remaining issues such as international sanctions as soon as possible.”
Part of Moon’s sanctions pitch appears to be connected with a desire to “revitalize” the South Korean economy, which has seen a slowdown of economic growth in recent years.
“As many of you have said, the South Korean economy is facing structural difficulties and is no longer able to realize high growth rates like in the past,” he explained. “I believe inter-Korean economic cooperation will provide a new, epochal growth engine that revitalizes our economy.”
It is unclear how Moon’s comments were received in Washington. The White House has long held the position that it will not relieve sanctions on North Korea until the country has fully denuclearized. However, an agreement may be reached shortly with the prospect of a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Kim recently returned from a trip to China where he received Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s “backing” for a second summit.
“The second North Korea-United States summit, to take place soon, and a reciprocal visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea will be other turning points that will firmly solidify peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon added. “We will not loosen our guard until the promise to denuclearize the peninsula is kept and peace is fully institutionalized.”