|U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pose during their first summit in Singapore, June 12 last year. The two leaders will hold their second meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 27 and 28. / Yonhap|
Scope of sanctions relief depends on NK's denuke steps
By Lee Min-hyung
The United States will likely offer low level exemptions from sanctions on North Korea during their planned summit next week, as part of an effective bargaining chip to prompt the North's denuclearization and keep their dialogue momentum moving forward, experts said Tuesday.
Until recently, Washington had remained firm in its determination not to offer any partial sanctions relief to Pyongyang before it carried out specific and verifiable steps toward nuclear disarmament.
But with both sides failing to narrow their differences on denuclearization steps and sanctions relief since the first landmark summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, last June 12, calls have grown for Washington to tone down its hardline stance and provide a partial lifting of sanctions in response to the regime's "peace gestures."
Experts here argue that the U.S. will not stick to the stance during the upcoming summit and will be ready to negotiate plans for sanctions relief during the two-day meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam.
"A series of more developed issues, compared to the first summit, will be discussed during the meeting," Kim Sang-ki, director of the unification policy unit at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said. "They will include a lifting of economic sanctions on the North and the expansion of bilateral engagement in such areas as culture and sports."
"Above all, my view is that both sides can reach a consensus in resuming tours to the North's Mount Geumgang," Kim said. "This is because the issue does not have much to do with the heavy sanctions imposed on the regime by the United Nations Security Council."
The reopening of the inter-Korean Gaeseong Industrial Complex can also be brought up for discussion, but it remains to be seen whether Trump and Kim will sign any specific deals regarding this, as it has a direct link to the sanctions, according to the expert.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also hinted at the possibility of easing sanctions on the North in exchange for continuous steps toward nuclear disarmament. He said last week in a local media interview, "It is our full intention of getting a good outcome in exchange for relieving those sanctions."
Washington and Pyongyang are also expected to discuss further engagement to continue building a mood for reconciliation, which will also play a crucial role in making progress in their deadlocked negotiations on denuclearization, he said.
"Cultural and sports engagements have little to do with the sanctions imposed on the regime, but on a long-term basis, they can also contribute to enhancing their bilateral relations and building an diplomatic environment where we can discuss the North's denuclearization in a more non-hostile manner."
These expectations come against the backdrop of an agreement at the first Trump-Kim summit. At that time, terms were established for a "new relationship" for peace and prosperity.
Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University, also said there is a high possibility the U.S. will offer to expand engagement with the North.
"For example, Washington may allow North Korean athletes and art troupes to visit the U.S. and hold performances there," he said.
Starting from such small gestures in exchanges, the two countries can develop an emotional bond, while at the same time, they can also generate win-win outcomes to speed up their negotiations on denuclearization, Lim added.
On Monday, CNN also reported that Washington and Pyongyang were "seriously considering" exchanging liaison officers, in what is seen as a move to help the two build a long-term relationship.