North Korea sanctions loom over Trump-Moon summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) is to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday. File Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI

NEW YORK, April 11 (UPI) — Sanctions against North Korea may have had only a limited impact on the Kim Jong Un regime, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in could soon be arguing for some form of sanctions relief, analysts said Tuesday.

Moon, who is expected to arrive in Washington on Wednesday and meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday for their first summit since talks collapsed in Vietnam, will be addressing North Korea at a time when he faces criticism for playing nice — sometimes too nice — with the North Korean leader.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo, an associate professor of international relations at King’s College London, told UPI Moon is not trying to weaken the sanctions regime. Those who think sanctions have had a lasting impact may differ, however.

“I understand why the United States is pro-sanctions,” Pardo said. “The Trump administration thinks these sanctions brought North Korea to the table. I don’t agree with that, but if you do, you would continue with sanctions.”

The spotlight is on South Korea, and the glare is harsh.

Seoul recently revealed it has been detaining a local ship for six months for illegal transshipments, and South Korean firms were caught illegally importing North Korean coal and pig iron in 2017.

Pardo said South Korea is not the chief party responsible for undermining pressure against Pyongyang. Rather, China and Russia, while advocating for sanctions relief, have been enabling forms of trade with North Korea on a scale that should be restricted under international law.

Daniel Wertz, a program manager for the National Committee on North Korea, said Tuesday at the Korean Economic Institute of America in Washington that sanctions alone would not have created a change of heart in Pyongyang.

Past sanctions, including those targeting North Korean banking, imports and exports have had the greatest impact. But the strongest sanctions that came after the regime’s fourth nuclear test in 2016 are being enforced when North Korea has found a way to manage despite the bans.

“The North Korean economy is not quite in a crisis yet,” Wertz said, adding the currency, food and fuel situations are “stable.”

“However, sanctions are clearly standing in the way of economic development.”

Moon is generally credited for bringing Trump and Kim together on the international stage, but amid the uncertainty that has presided over the Korean Peninsula since the collapse of the Hanoi summit, it may be too soon to say what Moon’s legacy is on the unresolved issue of a nuclear North Korea, said Benjamin Katzeff-Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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“The North Korea track doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at the moment,” Silberstein said, adding for the current South Korean administration, and its progressive allies, foreign policy and economic policy have merged when it comes to the North.

Pardo said in addition to proposing some sanctions relief, Moon could again bring up the issue of a three-way dialogue, or summit, among the three countries.

“This is an area in which South Korea can help,” the analyst said. “At this point, this makes sense.”

Pardo also said despite the failed talks, Moon should be credited for establishing boundaries against risky behavior.

“Even after Hanoi, it is very difficult for the United States to go back to a position of fire and fury,” Pardo said. Engagement “constrains U.S. policy,” and as long as North Korea stays away from weapons tests, Trump is likely to “keep up the momentum [of diplomacy] until the end of his presidency.”

Moon will not be meeting with Trump for the first time on Thursday. He has previously managed to persuade the U.S. president to meet with Kim, even when Trump canceled summits or postponed talks involving members of his administration.

But the South Korean president has also vowed to work with the international community to ease sanctions against North Korea so that the North and South can resume operations at their joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, and at resort and travel facilities in Mount Kumgang. It’s a proposal critics say relaxes economic pressure on a state that has developed nuclear weapons.

Pardo said the concern over sanctions may subside over time.

“In five years’ time the conversation is going to be different,” he said. “It will be more about arms control, like what’s going on with Pakistan.

“I don’t think Trump would have gone down this road [without Moon], to be honest.”

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