Projects with North to abide by sanctions: South Korean minister

South Korea will not reopen its industrial complex with North Korea until denuclearisation happens, and all inter-Korean projects will abide by current international sanctions, South Korea Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said in Washington on Thursday.

Mr Cho, whose five-day trip to the US capital comes amid stalled talks between the United States and North Korea, acknowledged concerns in Washington's foreign policy circles that the two allies were out of step with each other on the denuclearisation of North Korea.

But he sought to dispel the notion that the increasingly close relationship between the two Koreas would undermine US efforts to get the North to give up its nuclear programme. "I understand some critics argue that the progress in inter-Korean relations has been way too fast while there has been no progress in North Korea's denuclearisation.

"The situation now is similar to the natural flow of a river that was once blocked for a long time," Mr Cho said in his keynote address at a Korea forum organised by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

He added: "We are constantly highlighting the importance of North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons if it wants to have economic development... So, we can say that South Korea and the US are on the same page to achieve the same goal."

Mr Cho said he hoped that the US and North Korea could soon reschedule a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol, which was to have been held last week but which North Korea cancelled abruptly.

At the forum, top American and South Korean policy advisers and retired diplomats had a frank, in-depth discussion on the fundamental problems that were hampering US-North Korea negotiations.

 
 
 

America's former top diplomat on North Korea, Mr Joseph Yun, said the US was too fixated on the issue of whether North Korea would denuclearise.

Mr Yun said: "We have to ask: How do we move step by step so that at the end of the day, they will denuclearise? To ask them whether they will denuclearise is like going on a first date and asking, 'Will you marry me?' That is not going to happen."

He added: "It is great to have the goal of denuclearisation... but we need a process, we need a step-by-step approach, we need things that will build confidence."

Mr Yun suggested, for instance, that the US accepts Pyongyang's dismantling of its Yongbyon nuclear facility for some lifting of sanctions on oil imports and sending North Korean workers to China and Russia.

He said the ball is now in the US' court, and called Washington's insistence on doing nothing unless Pyongyang denuclearises a "non-starter".

Agreeing, retired veteran diplomat J. Stapleton Roy, who specialises in Asian affairs, said: "There is total disagreement on the US side as to what to give. Some people don't want to give anything but want to get everything from North Korea."

Mr Roy, a former ambassador to several Asian countries, including China and Singapore, added that the US would also have to acquiesce to North Korea's status as a nuclear power without formally acknowledging it.

Above all, said Mr Roy, "sustaining this process of engagement is necessary - but extraordinarily difficult - because the alternatives to talking are all bad".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline 'Projects with North to abide by sanctions: S. Korean minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe