Asia Pacific

U.S. weighs 18-month sanctions pause for North Korea: report

Bloomberg

The U.S. is considering suspending some sanctions on North Korea for 12 to 18 months in exchange for a freeze on the country’s nuclear weapons program, the Yonhap news agency reported Thursday.

The Trump administration would support lifting United Nations restrictions on North Korean coal and textiles exports as part of a deal to break their stalemate in nuclear talks, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified person close to the White House. In exchange, leader Kim Jong Un would be expected to dismantle his main nuclear complex at Yongbyon and halt his entire weapons program, the news agency from South Korea said.

The sanctions would snap back into place if North Korea failed to meet its side of the bargain, Yonhap reported. Suspending the sanctions would restore a valuable source of revenue to Kim’s regime.

The two sides are soon expected to hold their first working-level talks in five months, following up on U.S. President Donald Trump’s historic June 30 meeting with Kim on the border between the two Koreas. While a freeze has long been among the U.S.’s goals, the Trump administration has so far refused Kim’s demands for sanctions relief.

Trump walked away from his previous round of talks with Kim after the North Korea leader sought the removal of all U.N. sanctions passed in 2016 and 2017 in exchange for dismantling Yongbyon. Kim subsequently resumed tests of short-range ballistic missiles and warned that he would wait only until the end of the year for a change in the U.S. position.

The U.N. Security Council has passed five rounds of sanctions against North Korea since the country’s fifth nuclear test in September 2016. Those penalties, which would require U.S. support to undo, include everything from curbs on North Korea’s oil imports to a ban on its export of iron and coal.

A nuclear freeze would represent only the first step toward the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, as required by Security Council resolutions. Still, Trump is looking to break the stalemate in negotiations that have delivered little since he and Kim agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” during their first meeting 13 months ago.

The sanctions suspension could help build trust between the two long-time foes and provide a model that could be expanded as North Korea takes further disarmament steps, Yonhap said, citing the person close to the White House.