US may lift some sanctions if North Korea halts nuclear programme

SYDNEY • The US is considering suspending some sanctions on North Korea for 12 to 18 months in exchange for a freeze on the country's nuclear weapons programme, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

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 reported yesterday, 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 programme, the South Korean news agency reported.

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

Yonhap also reported yesterday that North Korea has revised its Constitution to make Mr Kim head of state, a promotion that could help normalise his relations with other world leaders ahead of any further meetings with US President Donald Trump. The change was included in a text posted on the propaganda website Naenara.

The US and North Korea are expected to hold their first working-level talks in five months, following up on Mr Trump's historic June 30 meeting with Mr Kim on the border between the two Koreas.

Mr Trump walked away from his previous round of talks with Mr Kim after the North Korean leader sought the removal of all UN sanctions passed in 2016 and 2017, in exchange for dismantling Yongbyon. Mr 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 US position.

 
 

The UN 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 US 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 towards the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, as required by UN resolutions.

Still, Mr Trump is looking to break the stalemate in negotiations since he and Mr Kim agreed to "work towards complete denuclearisation 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.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2019, with the headline 'US may lift some sanctions if N. Korea halts N-programme'. Print Edition | Subscribe