South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha came under fire from Washington and was forced to walk back comments made during a parliamentary audit, after implying that Seoul is leaning towards lifting sanctions on North Korea.
On Wednesday, the South Korean official said “a review is underway” - to encourage their neighbor to denuclearize - when asked about the restrictions that currently exist on the majority of inter-Korean exchange, except for humanitarian assistance.
But Kang later walked back the comments, saying North Korea should first apologize for a military attack which prompted the sanctions. Seoul imposed the unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang after a 2010 incident in which 46 soldiers were killed when a navy corvette sank. The restrictions include a ban on most bilateral trade and exchanges.
The South Korean foreign ministry also officially denied that the government was reviewing the matter. Kang initially insinuated, without conditions, that Moon Jae-in’s Government was leaning towards easing the economic sanctions that were designed to push North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons.
However, South Korea is charged to adhere to similar United Nations sanctions and U.S. Donald Trump response also presents another complication after the president issued a stern rebuke targeting the foreign minister’s inference.
“They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval,” according to the head of state. Washington officials have also promised to keep up “maximum pressure” against the North carry out the denuclearization process.
Moon is open to reestablishing ties with North Korea, but has also vowed to respect international sanctions.
“No matter the substantive disagreement between the two sides, I think Seoul and Washington will move quickly to paper over his comments and maintain a facade of alignment,” said Mintaro Oba, ex-U.S. diplomat who worked on North Korea policy. Oba added that Moon “will continue to test the envelope but avoid any actions he thinks will cause open tensions with the United States.”
Additionally, Kang commented that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is “discontent” with a military agreement between with two Koreas.