South Korea prefers an action-for-action approach in gradually lifting sanctions as the North takes steps towards denuclearisation, President Moon Jae In's national security and foreign policy adviser told a forum in Tokyo yesterday.
Dr Moon Chung In told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council meeting that if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were to reach a deal with United States President Donald Trump, "then the US should ask the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to adopt a resolution to immediately relax or eliminate the sanctions on North Korea. But of course it has to be action for action".
He was speaking hours after US Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty told the same forum that the US will keep up maximum pressure on Pyongyang.
"The US leadership has been very consistent that the pressure is going to stay in place," Mr Hagerty said. "We need to see tangible results... We are not talking about writing blank cheques that can go towards some other nefarious activity. We are talking about real know-how."
These differing views on the way forward underlie the uncharted territory of the high-stakes pow-wow between Mr Trump and Mr Kim on June 12 in Singapore.
Dr Moon yesterday noted that all stakeholders, including North Korea, were on the same page on the meaning of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation".
However, he noted: "President Trump wants to take all the nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles out of North Korea and bring them to the US where they will be dismantled. But North Korea has a different view.
"Chairman Kim wants an incremental and synchronised exchange based on the principle of action for action. There is a huge gap."
China, like South Korea, prefers a more reconciliatory approach. But Japan, like the US, wants a global maximum pressure campaign.
Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko said yesterday that Tokyo has no intention to assist Pyongyang until all pending matters - including the long-standing abductions issue - are resolved.
Mr Hagerty stressed there was "no daylight" in the US' security alliance with Japan, while lauding Australia, Britain and Canada for coming on board their campaign to ensure strict enforcement of UNSC sanctions on North Korea. They are jointly working out of US bases in Japan to curtail illicit maritime activities such as ship-to-ship transfers of goods with North Korean-flagged vessels in nearby waters.
On May 3, a North Korean tanker was spotted next to a South Korean cargo vessel in the East China Sea.
Seoul stresses that there was no breach, while Tokyo agrees that no cargo transfer was likely to have taken place.
Separately, retired top Singapore envoy Bilahari Kausikan said Mr Trump deserves credit for drawing Mr Kim into talks, by speaking "the language of deterrence" in a way that is "not how US presidents normally speak".
"(Former US president Barack) Obama did nothing about the North Korean issue for eight years and called (it) a policy of 'strategic patience'," he said. But Mr Trump tapped the "essential logic of deterrence, which is 'If you do something I don't like, I'm going to kill you'."
He added: "Kim understood that and reciprocated because he used extreme logic and in his case, asymmetrical deterrence. 'Yes, you can kill me but before I die, I'm going to tear off your arm'."
Yesterday, Dr Moon noted the domestic risks that Mr Kim might potentially face.
While Mr Kim is now in full control of the military, the party and the Cabinet, he said: "There is some danger if North Korea is going to give up its nuclear weapons, go through arms reduction talks with South Korea and allow open reform, then the military will be marginalised and the party and Cabinet will gain strength."
He added: "Once the military's institutional interest is severely compromised, what will be the military response? We do not know. It is yet to be seen."