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    Easing Sanctions Could Encourage North Korea to Denuclearize Further - Experts

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang - The proposal from Russia and China to ease stringent economic sanctions could offer more incentives for North Korea to move toward complete denuclearization, despite concerns from the United States over lack of concrete actions from Pyongyang to give up its existing nuclear arsenal, experts told Sputnik.

    At the UN headquarters in New York City last week, both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi made similar suggestions to relax strict economic sanctions against North Korea, which were introduced under UN resolutions last year to rein in the rapid progress of Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program.

    "A provision in the Security Council resolutions that the council is prepared to modify the sanction measures in light of the DPRK’s [North Korea’s] compliance. Now given the positive developments in the inter-Korean and DPRK-US relations, and the DPRK’s important pledges and actions on denuclearization, China believes that the Security Council needs to consider invoking in due course this provision to encourage the DPRK and other relevant parties to move denuclearization further ahead," the Chinese foreign minister said at a UN Security Council session.

    Lavrov said that he agreed with China’s point of view that restrictions imposed on North Korea should be lifted.

    "I have positive attitude toward what my [Chinese] counterpart Wang Yi said about the need to encourage progress in the negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to ease sanctions pressure," Lavrov told reporters at a press conference on the sidelines of the 73rd UN General Assembly.

    READ MORE: Kim Must Come Out With the Details of Nuclear Weapons — S Korean Lawmaker

    In response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed at UN Security Council meetings that sanctions should not be lifted before complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is achieved.

    "Enforcement of UN Security Council sanctions must continue vigorously and without fail until we realize final, fully verified denuclearization. The members of this Council must set the example on that effort, and we must all hold each other accountable," Pompeo said.

    The suggestions from Russia and China came after North Korea agreed to allow international experts to monitor the closure of the Dongchang-ri missile engine testing facility and missile launch pad, while promising to permanently shut down its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, depending on corresponding actions from the United States, during the inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang in September.

    Reciprocal Response

    Despite critics argued that the latest offers from North Korea failed to address the nation’s existing nuclear weapons, Pyongyang’s willingness and the steps it has taken to curb its nuclear capabilities need to be rewarded to push the denuclearization process further, political analysts suggested.

    "The nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula has existed over several decades, as Pyongyang did not build its nuclear arsenal overnight. North Korea’s promise to denuclearize completely has at least demonstrated its willingness to give up its nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has already started to reduce its nuclear capabilities by dismantling its missile engine testing facility and missile launch pad. If you look at responses from the United States, except for a few tweets from [US President Donald] Trump, it has not taken steps to ‘reward’ North Korea’s efforts or encourage it to move further on denuclearization," Zheng Jiyong, the director of the Center for Korean Studies, Fudan University in Shanghai, told Sputnik.

    READ MORE: South, North Korea Start Demining Demilitarized Zone

    The Chinese scholar added that easing sanctions could allow the international community to offer more humanitarian support for ordinary North Korean citizens, whose lives have suffered under the strict economic sanctions.

    "The international community has largely neglected the humanitarian conditions in North Korea so far. The economic sanctions under UN resolutions have had a huge impact on the lives of ordinary people in North Korea. The UN resolutions only intended to punish North Korea’s nuclear related activities. But they have also hurt the living conditions in the country. From a humanitarian perspective, at least, we can try to offer more incentives for North Korea to denuclearize by easing the economic impact on ordinary people in the country," he said.

    Tension Reduction

    As part of the bilateral efforts to reduce military tension on the Korean Peninsula, both North Korea and South Korea started to remove landmines scattered in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two countries this week.

    To improve communications between the military of the two countries, the first meeting of the inter-Korean military commission could be held by the end of this year, South Korean Ambassador to Russia Woo Yoon-keun said this week.

    The military tension reduction measures could greatly lower the chances of miscalculations and accidental military conflicts on the Korean Peninsula, Professor Zheng pointed out.

    "For the governments of the two Koreas, they can at least avoid any unexpected or accidental military conflicts. In a way, military mobilizations are rather predictable. Improved communications between the military of both sides can help them learn how to deal with each other, which could greatly reduce the chances of military conflicts," he said.

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    However, domestic political pressure could force South Korea to make a policy U-turn very quickly and reverse the policy of promoting engagement with Pyongyang under South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Seoul-based political analysts warned.

    "South Korean politics is always very polarized. There’re two extremes. Sooner or later, a conservative administration will get in. If they do, we can expect tensions with North Korea to increase. The conservative administration will have to pay back some of their supporters who are strongly against North Korea," Jeffrey Robertson, a visiting fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy of the Australian National University and an assistant professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, told Sputnik.

    The expert explained why the Moon administration’s policies toward Pyongyang might not last long in South Korea.

    "The Moon administration has a very clear path [in dealing with North Korea] that they intend on following. But under the domestic politics in South Korea, I don’t think that path has longevity. It will not last for a long time, because sooner or later a conservative administration will get into power. The Moon administration is also not making any attempts to try to increase domestic support. They’re not making any attempts to engage the conservatives or to persuade them in any way. There’s going to be a limited duration of the current period. I think it [Moon’s policies] can be very rapidly undone," he said.

    Tension Reduction

    Members of the UN Security Council voted unanimously in support of tough economic sanctions against North Korea last year, amid rapid progress of the nation’s nuclear arms program.

    Professor Robertson pointed out that the consensus at the time between the United States and other great powers including Russia and China came as a result of "crisis diplomacy."

    "We’re still at the stage of ‘crisis diplomacy’ that always has very ambiguous and short-term goals, which are basically just to reduce the amount of tension. To transform from ‘crisis diplomacy’ to the next stage of diplomacy is very difficult. For South Korea, whether North Korea has nuclear or not doesn't really matter. Because of the crisis created by the United States [threats of a war], South Korea has to react to that," he said.

    READ MORE: Western Policy Seeking Tougher Sanctions on North Korea "Untimely" — Russian FM

    The expert suggested that if North Korea can prove that it is changing its attitude, the international community could become less vocal about the need for Pyongyang to get rid of its nuclear arsenal completely.

    "I think if there’s a clear sign that North Korea is changing its attitude. I think the nuclear question can be put aside and make much quieter. I think even the United States is willing to do that, because, in reality, people are aware that removing all of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities is a pretty much impossibility," he said.

    A lot of confidence-building efforts are needed before members of the international community can start to accept such a situation, the expert noted.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    sanctions, denuclearization, UN Security Council, Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump, United States, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK)
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