Lifting of sanctions and denuclearization

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Lifting of sanctions and denuclearization

By Mahmood Elahi

This refers to The Korea Times article on July 23 "Exceptions to sanctions needed for better inter-Korean ties, say South Korean FM."

The article reports: "Kang visited New York last week to brief the U.N. Security Council on the current situation with North Korea's denuclearization. Kang and National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong, who made a separate visit to the White House to meet his U.S. counterpart John Bolton, allegedly sought for sanctions on North Korea to be partially eased."

This explains the complexity in dealing with North Korea's pledge to denuclearize as agreed by its leader Kim Jong-un in his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump. On both occasions, Kim Jong-un pledged to denuclearize as a step toward the normalization of relations between the two Koreas. In return, both President Moon and President Trump promised to lift sanctions when North Korea took visible steps towards denuclearization.

Since the summit between Trump and Kim two months have passed, but North Korea has not shown any progress toward denuclearization. It has not specified any time table for starting the denuclearization process. However, recently North Korea appears to have started dismantling key facilities at its main missile launch site in a step toward fulfilling a commitment made by Kim Jong-un in his summit with President Donald Trump on June 12.

While Pyongyang could be trying to build trust with Washington, most analysts say dismantling a few facilities won't realistically reduce North Korea's military capability. North Korea's real goal remains to be the easing of sanctions.

Given the despotic Kim dynasty's history of reneging on earlier denuclearization agreements, one is right to counsel caution about Kim Jong-un's sincerity. Looking back, it is hard to believe that Kim would give up his nuclear arsenal for the sake of peace and normalization of relations between the two Koreas. But things might be different now.

The most visible difference is now the transformation of relations between South Korea and China which has been the mentor of North Korea. For long, China provided economic, political and strategic support to North Korea as a counter to the U.S. strategic and military alliance with South Korea, and North Korea could rely on China in any confrontation with South Korea.

Things are much different today. China is now South Korea's biggest trading partner. With two-way trade between South Korea and China totaling $211 billion in 2017, China is by far South Korea's biggest trading partner. Its trade with China is bigger than its combined trade with the U.S. and Japan totaling $170 billion. With so much trade and economic interest at stake, China is unlikely to prop up a nuclear-armed North Korea threatening South Korea.

And unlike the so-called smart sanctions imposed 13 years ago, Trump's efforts have the backing of the U.N. Security Council. Moreover, compliance with the sanctions has increased because the Trump administration is more willing to punish North Korea than earlier administrations for its defiance of the agreement. However, Kim might still be banking on China if he decides to renege on his pledge to denuclearize.

As such, we must set up a clear time table for the denuclearization of North Korea. This can be done in three stages. First, North Korea must provide an inventory of its nuclear stockpile. The next step should be the dismantling of the stockpile, verified by international experts. And the final step would be the closing of all sites, with international observers monitoring them to preclude any restarting of the nuclear weapons program.

The lifting of sanctions should go hand-in-hand with the phased denuclearization. This would allow some easing of sanctions while accepting the U.S. demand for progress in denuclearization. This will allow any exemption of sanctions to move inter-Korean relations forward without jeopardizing the overall sanctions regime.

Both the United States and South Korea must keep North Korea's denuclearization at the top of their strategic priorities. As Victor Cha, professor of government at Georgetown University, wrote in the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs: "Accepting North Korea as a nuclear power and building a new relationship from that basis would legitimize its pursuit of nuclear weapons and send a dangerous signal to other countries that are considering starting their own programs."

By signing two separate agreements with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has committed himself to the denuclearization of North Korea. He must be held responsible to keep his pledge.


Mahmood Elahi (omega51@sympatico.ca) is a freelance writer in Ottawa.


By Mahmood Elahi

This refers to The Korea Times article on July 23 "Exceptions to sanctions needed for better inter-Korean ties, say South Korean FM."

The article reports: "Kang visited New York last week to brief the U.N. Security Council on the current situation with North Korea's denuclearization. Kang and National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong, who made a separate visit to the White House to meet his U.S. counterpart John Bolton, allegedly sought for sanctions on North Korea to be partially eased."

This explains the complexity in dealing with North Korea's pledge to denuclearize as agreed by its leader Kim Jong-un in his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump. On both occasions, Kim Jong-un pledged to denuclearize as a step toward the normalization of relations between the two Koreas. In return, both President Moon and President Trump promised to lift sanctions when North Korea took visible steps towards denuclearization.

Since the summit between Trump and Kim two months have passed, but North Korea has not shown any progress toward denuclearization. It has not specified any time table for starting the denuclearization process. However, recently North Korea appears to have started dismantling key facilities at its main missile launch site in a step toward fulfilling a commitment made by Kim Jong-un in his summit with President Donald Trump on June 12.

While Pyongyang could be trying to build trust with Washington, most analysts say dismantling a few facilities won't realistically reduce North Korea's military capability. North Korea's real goal remains to be the easing of sanctions.

Given the despotic Kim dynasty's history of reneging on earlier denuclearization agreements, one is right to counsel caution about Kim Jong-un's sincerity. Looking back, it is hard to believe that Kim would give up his nuclear arsenal for the sake of peace and normalization of relations between the two Koreas. But things might be different now.

The most visible difference is now the transformation of relations between South Korea and China which has been the mentor of North Korea. For long, China provided economic, political and strategic support to North Korea as a counter to the U.S. strategic and military alliance with South Korea, and North Korea could rely on China in any confrontation with South Korea.

Things are much different today. China is now South Korea's biggest trading partner. With two-way trade between South Korea and China totaling $211 billion in 2017, China is by far South Korea's biggest trading partner. Its trade with China is bigger than its combined trade with the U.S. and Japan totaling $170 billion. With so much trade and economic interest at stake, China is unlikely to prop up a nuclear-armed North Korea threatening South Korea.

And unlike the so-called smart sanctions imposed 13 years ago, Trump's efforts have the backing of the U.N. Security Council. Moreover, compliance with the sanctions has increased because the Trump administration is more willing to punish North Korea than earlier administrations for its defiance of the agreement. However, Kim might still be banking on China if he decides to renege on his pledge to denuclearize.

As such, we must set up a clear time table for the denuclearization of North Korea. This can be done in three stages. First, North Korea must provide an inventory of its nuclear stockpile. The next step should be the dismantling of the stockpile, verified by international experts. And the final step would be the closing of all sites, with international observers monitoring them to preclude any restarting of the nuclear weapons program.

The lifting of sanctions should go hand-in-hand with the phased denuclearization. This would allow some easing of sanctions while accepting the U.S. demand for progress in denuclearization. This will allow any exemption of sanctions to move inter-Korean relations forward without jeopardizing the overall sanctions regime.

Both the United States and South Korea must keep North Korea's denuclearization at the top of their strategic priorities. As Victor Cha, professor of government at Georgetown University, wrote in the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs: "Accepting North Korea as a nuclear power and building a new relationship from that basis would legitimize its pursuit of nuclear weapons and send a dangerous signal to other countries that are considering starting their own programs."

By signing two separate agreements with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has committed himself to the denuclearization of North Korea. He must be held responsible to keep his pledge.


Mahmood Elahi (omega51@sympatico.ca) is a freelance writer in Ottawa.


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