South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested Thursday that he’ll push for sanction exemptions to restart dormant economic cooperation projects with North Korea.
The comments, if pursued before South Korea’s ally Washington is ready, could weaken ties with the United States and complicate efforts to rid the North of its nuclear weapons.
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 South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain and reopen a jointly run factory complex in the North that was shut during the North’s push to improve its nuclear weapons program.
Moon’s comments could be read as a symbolic response to Kim’s overture, but they could also hamper ties with the Washington, which wants to maintain sanctions on North Korea until it completely abandons its nuclear program.
“We welcome North Korea’s intention to resume their operation without conditions or compensation,” Moon said. “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.”
The two cooperation projects at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort and the Kaesong industrial complex just north of the Koreas’ border were suspended in the past decade along with other similar projects amid the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program. The two projects were considered key sources for badly needed foreign currency for the impoverished North.
Moon spoke soon after Kim headed back to Pyongyang after a four-day trip to Beijing that included a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese and North Korean state media reported earlier Thursday that Kim told Xi that he’s committed to setting up a second summit with President Donald Trump to “achieve results” on the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula.
“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 said. “We will not loosen our guard until the promise to denuclearize the peninsula is kept and peace is fully institutionalized.”
After a series of provocative nuclear and missile tests 2017 that caused fears of war, North Korea entered talks with the United States and South Korea last year with a vague commitment to nuclear disarmament. But nuclear diplomacy has reported no major breakthrough since Kim met with Trump for a summit in Singapore last June.